Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Evolution of a Season - Our Relationship with Technology

It’s no secret, by now, that I’m really into season planning. At this time of year, several of us read dozens of plays and have long conversations about themes we are interested in exploring moving forward. While I’m certain some future post will be all about planning season 9, that’s not what I’m thinking about today. Rather than spending this time planning for future seasons, I find myself reflecting on season 8. No, it’s not done, there is still a lot of work to do, but as I sat to work on Grounded this morning, I found myself thinking of the show in context of the season as a whole.

If you’ve been following tKAPOW this season, you know that our theme is BREATHE. I think it’s a great theme and really touches upon both our interest in the importance of those things that make us human and the practical use of breath as a part of our training and storytelling processes. But, as I reflect on this season now that Grounded is nearly up on it’s feet, I find a different theme emerging. What I think we’ve really been exploring this season is humankind’s relationship with technology. It wasn’t planned that way and since it wasn’t planned somehow it feels more sincere. Here’s a reminder of what season 8 has looked like so far.  

In December, we produced Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs. The play centers around a young couple making deciding whether or not to have a baby. The relationship between M and W in that play is in the foreground, but one of the clear factors contributing to the couple’s (especially W’s) reluctance to have a baby is how much of an impact the child will have on the environment. Ultimately, I think everyone would agree that having the child was for the best and that M and W were able to live much happier lives as a result. At the end of the play, however, the world is literally covered in ash.

This year’s February comedy was Marie Jones’ Stones in His Pockets. Rich and Peter had a great time playing a whole bunch of different characters including members of both the local, rural Irish village a Hollywood film crew. As is fairly typical of a tKAPOW comedy, the show was funny on the surface but had some very serious undertones. At its roots, Stones explores the impact of outside modern influence on a traditional community.

With Grounded (opening this weekend at the Derry Opera House), the relationship between humans and technology is forefront. As the technology of warfare has shifted away from fighter jets and towards unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), the way we conduct war has changed considerably. So much of this show is about the guilt associated with inflicting harm without ever putting yourself in danger. The show also asks serious questions about how technology can desensitize even those in the most critical of fields. When our world is reduced to what can be seen on a small screen, what are the implications of our actions?

Looking back I’m really proud of the season aesthetically and think that a lot of the design elements also speak to our relationship with technology. Lungs was just two actors (wearing their own clothes), an 8’x10’ area rug, and a few Ikea light fixtures (oh and a grand total of 6 light cues). The world reduced to the minimal. The set for Stones was a physical representation of the influence of man (the rectangular platform) on nature (the circular grassy hill). David Brown provided beautiful traditional fiddle music which was contrasted by Tayva’s visible movie lighting equipment. Grounded, as you will see in just a few days, is a mess of technology. It’s as technologically complex a show we have ever done with 5 flat screens, multiple cameras, two laptops, and dozens of video clips. All of that technology is juxtaposed, however, by a single actress, in a single costume, standing in an 8’x8’ room with one very plain looking chair.

It’s fascinating to me that without really meaning to, we’ve been exploring this idea of our relationship with technology all season long. I think this speaks to the fact that amazing things can (and will) happen if you make a priority of producing well written shows and purposefully stringing together pieces that complement each other.

As we plan season nine (it’s still amazing to me that it’s already been eight years), we know that we have a responsibility to ourselves as artists, to the playwrights whose work we produce, and most of all to our audience, to continue to make deliberate choices when constructing the season. I’m excited to explore new themes in season nine and to see what conversations result.
~Matt Cahoon

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