“The Voice of the Network”, by the local playwright Jeremy Llorenceimagine a future more twisted by the dark side of the internet than the current one.
Abbey Theater in Dublin and Original Productions Theater are co-producing the world premiere of the sci-fi suspense thriller, opening Thursday at the Dublin Community Recreation Center.
Set 20 years from now, primarily in the Midwest, “Voice of the Net” revolves around cyber threats, a mysterious cyber vigilante, and a small federal task force dedicated to combating Internet crime.
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“This engaging play speaks to how reliant we have become on the internet and technology and how there may be negative consequences down the line,” said Alyssa Ryan, Executive Director of Original Productions Theatre.
As its name suggests, the 5-year-old theater company is on a mission to produce only original works.
“We want to highlight new and exciting work from playwrights, especially local artists like Llorence,” said Ryan.
Threats of the ‘network, social networks
Llorence, an Otterbein University professor who received the 2018 Playwrights Fellowship from CATCO and the Greater Columbus Arts Council for this play, said his goal was to explore the power of the Internet and social media for good and ill in two acts of 100 minutes.
“This play focuses primarily on the bad, the ability to spread hateful rhetoric online or harm someone online,” said Llorence, who began writing the script in 2018 after hearing an NPR story about the spread online. of racist ideologies.
While Llorence was rewriting drafts in early 2020, Otterbein was hit by a cyber attackwhich led him to improve his plot about a US senator receiving a digital death threat.
“After the Otterbein cyberattack, I made the threat bigger so that the senator would have to be completely offline,” he said.
‘Voice of the Net’ is ‘fresh… layered,’ says director
Abbey Theater Supervisor Joe Bishara he has wanted to stage Llorence’s work since he first read it in 2019 as a CATCO Fellow Judge.
“If I’m reading a play and I can see what’s going on in the movie inside my mind, I get really excited. This was new, different, fresh and very moving, with many layers,” said Bishara, director of the co-production.
“You think it’s going to go one way, then it goes the other… I was blown away by this complex piece of work about how people are using the internet for everything now, including how to inspire and activate hate,” Bishara said.
Although set in the future, “Voice of the Net” offers a provocative perspective on current technology-driven trends, Bishara said.
“The internet was meant to make our lives better, but it’s also fueling fear and racism…while people today are going into game chats to recruit young people for dark causes,” he said.
Getting really surreal
This is Llorence’s fourth full-length play, following productions of other plays in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“I like to incorporate elements of magical realism and Japanese surrealism, but I wanted to try something different in ‘Voice…’ by also exploring Japanese surrealist influences,” he said.
Extrapolating from current technologies, Llorence imagined plausible scenarios of how people might access the internet differently within a generation, perhaps through Google Glass-style projections.
“Joe, a supporter of this play from day one, really got it. He understands the rhythms of the work, the movements and my ideas about how it should look,” said Llorence.
Bishara, in turn, asked his design team to incorporate computer projections, surreal lighting changes, and skins to reflect characters operating online.
“When people are online, it’s like they’re wearing a mask, so we show it while they’re talking in video games,” Bishara said. “Almost every video game now has a chat room, so we also identified ways for staging to make it clear when characters are on the ‘net.”
2 female leads at the center of ‘Voice of the Net’
Unlike Llorence’s previous works, which tended to focus on toxic masculinity, “Voice of the Net” revolves around two female leads.
julie whitney scott She plays Detective Donna Lloyd, who leads the federal task force fighting Internet crime.
“She’s a seasoned officer, dedicated to her job and following the rules and regulations, but she also has a nice human side,” said Whitney-Scott.
Lloyd has been investigating Daria (Nat Harper), a mysterious online personality who previously helped track down internet bad guys.
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“Lloyd is in awe of Daria and sees her as supportive of his crime-fighting mission,” said Whitney-Scott.
When a senator is threatened, Lloyd’s team steps up their online investigations and possible links to Daria.
“Personally, I’m paranoid about the internet and suspicious of anyone I don’t know who tries to contact me,” Whitney-Scott said.
“With cyberthreats and recent mass shootings precipitated by the internet underworld, this piece shows how dangerous social media can be if you’re not aware,” he said.
Whitney-Scott first portrayed Donna in the 2019 CATCO stage reading.
“When we first did it, this fast-moving stage play wasn’t as relevant as it is today, but some things in the play are now happening in real life,” he said. “It’s almost like Jeremy can see into the future.”
take a look
Abbey Theater of Dublin and Original Productions Theater will present “Voice of the Net,” at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. June 9-11 and 2 p.m. June 12 at 5600 Post Road, Dublin. Tickets are $20-$25, or $20 per stream per device June 8-12. (614-410-4550, dublinohiousa.gov/abbey-theater)