Monday, September 17, 2018

Technology and the Regression of Communication

It is well documented that the advancement of technology has ushered in a society that is more connected than it ever has been, yet (somehow) continues to regress in its ability to communicate truthfully.
“Today” we are told “we have knowledge at our fingertips that we could only dream of in generations past.” It is true; in 2018 you are mere keystrokes away from the extended works of William Shakespeare, a live stream of Earth from the International Space Station, or an instructional YouTube video on how to best prepare salmon steaks. We can FaceTime, voice chat, text message, SnapChat (take your pick) with people on the other side of the planet with next to no effort.

Objectively, these tools provided through technological advancement should only further enable us to communicate with our fellow human beings. Bring us closer together, not isolate us. The barriers of distance, time and language (thank you Rosetta stone!) have been torn down by iPhones and touch-screens, and yet YouTube comments and Twitter are inundated with hateful, poorly-spelled, half-baked excuses for thoughtful discourse.

At what point do we stop blaming the tools and start holding ourselves accountable for our behavior? The reality is, barriers of language and trust are only brought down through vulnerability and honesty, behaviors that are not made easier through the newest gadget or social media. In fact, there is a very real case to be made that the interconnected modern society is actively detrimental to the idea of being truthful and vulnerable.

By connecting society through cell phones and computer screens, people are more exposed than ever. An errant tweet from years past is now grounds for firing, not to mention the vicious witch-hunt that comes, fully enabled through social media. “Burn in hell, sinner!” is so much easier to tweet than it is to verbalize; to speak to someone’s face.
Brian Friel so perfectly illustrates in his play Translations how difficult it is to truthfully communicate with one another. We are so eager to throw up walls (be they technological, cultural or linguistic) to avoid the effort and discomfort that comes with a real human connection. “Say anything at all; I love the sound of your speech” says English Lieutenant Yolland to the local Irish woman Maire Catach. She is speaking Latin (completely unintelligible to the Lieutenant); desperately trying to communicate with him despite this seemingly unassailable barrier. And yet this young, earnest pair connect in a very real way, speaking in the universal tongues of smiles, laughs and sighs. No computers, no Google Translate, no cell phones. Just two people and the warm, Irish air of a summer night in 1833. Intent is everything, and this highlights the exasperatingly simple solution to this age-old problem:

Make an effort.

Society, it seems, has come to the conclusion that technological advancement enables our problems to be solved for us. The average first-world citizen has been given a free pass to check-out; intellectually as well as socially. We, as a society must recognize that the advancement of technology must be accompanied by a commensurate advancement and evolution of our intellectual and civic responsibilities. The technological marvels at our disposal are not crutches. They’re ladders. Let’s start using them.
~Jimmy Stewart

tKAPOW's production of Brian Friel's Translations runs September 28 to October 6, 2018 .

Monday, September 3, 2018

Saying Goodbye to Thebes

My first main stage production with theatre KAPOW was in September of 2013 when we mounted our first run of The Burial at Thebes. It is a beautiful contemporary adaptation of the Antigone play by the famous Irish poet, Seamus Heaney. It is an uncommon privilege in the theater world to come back to a script and perform the same roles over several years, however, this was the experience for myself and a handful of other actors. For the past 5 years we have returned to Thebes each September to perform for the freshman class at St. Anselm College to coincide with the these new students’ reading of Antigone. We have also performed on a few other occasions for high school students.

This September will be our last run of the show and our 7th time re-mounting the show. Many actors have performed in various roles over the years and just the other day in rehearsal we were attempting to count up the total number of people who have contributed to the production. For the past 5 years I have marked the coming of fall with not only my return to teaching and my children’s return to school but also with the mid-August email from Matt Cahoon, usually entitled “Return to Thebes” or most recently, “The Very Last Thebes (We think)”. Facebook and Instagram have faithfully popped up pictures of the original show photos and many other rehearsal pictures from over the years.

As I reflect on this, it occurs to me how much I will miss receiving Matt’s email and how sad it will be when we actually do put this production to rest. Like many greek tragedies, Antigone deals with the flaws and strengths that make us human and is full of timeless themes such as love, pride, power, morality, betrayal, loyalty and fear. Each year as we’ve return to the play, we’ve found new relevance in its content. For me, the poetry and themes never get stale. We have found connections to 9/11, the Boston Marathon Bombings and other news stories and political climates throughout the 5 years.

I have played Ismeme, sister of Antigone, each year as well as a chorus member. Each year I’ve found a new lens to see Ismene through and different ways to analyze her relationship with Antigone and her decision not to follow her sister's plan to go against the “laws of the land” and bury her brother. In her I have found a fierce love of her family, but a true fear that perhaps we’d call her tragic flaw. Fear is certainly an emotion we can all connect with and one that so often decides our decisions in life. Was Ismene wrong to deny her sister her support and to not, as she states, “defy the laws of the land”? This question of who was right, Creon or Antigone, has been an ongoing conversation for the company and one that is always discussed in our talk backs after each show. There have been many different opinions and insights over the years, but as Tom Hanks as Forest Gump says so eloquently when describing what life might mean, “maybe it’s a little of both.”

Ismene is spared by King Creon and we never really find out what happens to her. Fear may have been her flaw, but it wasn’t a fatal one for her, unlike most of the other characters in the play, so maybe she’s wiser than we thought. Last year one of the college students asked me what I thought happened to Ismeme at the end of the play.  Where did she go? I have thought about this a lot and my favorite imagining is that she fled far away to the seaside and lived out her days watching the tides in solitude. Perhaps never forgiving herself for living and her sister dying, but somehow finding peace in her escape from the tragedy at Thebes.

~Rachael Longo

(photos by Matthew Lomanno)