The Rise of Technology In Our Theatre Stories
Arguably, the stage has been much slower than film to consider the rise of digital technologies and the virtual realm, but over the past decade, theatremakers have become increasingly intrigued by its impact.
In the one-woman play Grounded, for example, American writer George Brant introduces his audience to a former US Air Force pilot who is redeployed to fly shoot-to-kill drone missions over Iraq from the airconditioned comfort of a compound in Nevada.
In The Believers Are But Brothers, British playwright and performer Javaad Alipoor immerses us in the world of online chat rooms and Dark Web forums, where political and religious radicalism, misogyny and hate speech breed. In The Girl in the Machine, Scots playwright Stef Smith charts a loving relationship turned inside out by the emergence of a mysterious new technology that promises to break the chains of the daily grind.
All three plays will be presented at Riverside Theatres in coming months in what amounts to a mini-festival of plays raising questions about the profound change our society is undergoing – change we embrace every time we reach for our phone or check in with Facebook – yet do not fully comprehend. Grounded, for example, asks us to consider the intersection of morality and technology in modern warfare.
“We’re hoping audiences are moved to contemplate some of the human and psychological costs of contemporary military practices which have simultaneously brought the war into our living rooms while keeping the actual combat on the other side of the world,” says director Dominic Mercer.
“In Grounded, the technology is very much embedded in the story itself. It allows a young mother with a toddler to be on the front line of a war, and be home in time to make dinner.”
Javaad Alipoor’s The Believers are But Brothers, one of the most talked about shows of the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, began as an attempt to intervene in the discussion around the online radicalisation of young Muslim men. It evolved into a much wider study of what Alipoor sees as a crisis in modern masculinity, one brought about by the increasing gap between wants and needs and the ability to realise them.
Claudia Barrie, director of The Girl in the Machine, says that while the Internet has allowed for unparalleled communication of ideas, it has also altered the way we interact. “While it’s great to have such a huge access to information so quickly, it is a media that is also used to bully and harass and create tunnel visions and antagonise specific points of view,” she says.
The characters of The Girl in the Machine are spurred on by the temptation of a utopian paradise, Barrie explains. But they find themselves pulled further and further into the promise of something that may or may not be real.
“I think it’s a story that will encourage conversation about how dependent we are on technology and how our understanding of reality morphs into unrealistic expectations of life. Crop, pick a filter, delete if necessary.”
The humanity of the theatre experience – real people, in real time and space – makes it ideally suited to the consideration of the impact of the digital on our lives, says Mercer.
“Theatre forces you to be in the same room as the performers. We believe in the significance of this and it’s one of the main reasons theatre artists and audiences have never left this medium behind. Part of what Grounded examines is what happens when you take that away.”
Grounded plays 14 – 23 March
The Believers Are But Brothers plays 10 & 11 May
The Girl in the Machine plays 20 – 29 June