A man is killed in front of you, but you just walk on by. A child is being abused, but you don’t stop to help. Why should you? None of this is real anyway. Or is it? These questions and more are posed by “The Nether,” a stage production by playwright Jennifer Haley that explores the implications of a futuristic online reality and the darkest corners of society’s imagination.
The play currently is in pre-production here at Truman State, the first college to produce it. It premiered in Los Angeles during spring 2013, followed closely by a 2014 London production and a 2015 New York production, all garnering high praise.
Assistant Professor of Theatre David Charles Goyette, who is the director of Truman’s production, said he has been familiar with “The Nether” for two years because he is part of the literary circle of the American Theater Company in Chicago.
“Usually what happens is after [a play] goes to New York and after it goes to the West End in London, then all the professional theatres start doing it immediately,” Goyette said. “Usually the licensing houses wait another full year before the colleges are allowed to do it, but because we are in a rural area where we aren’t really in competition with the professional theatre hubs, they’re allowing us to do it at the same time as them.”
Goyette said “The Nether” is set in the future, when artificial reality and the Internet are one and the same. He said characters plug in to interact with an Internet world where everything appears real. He said in the play, an entrepreneur has created a depiction of a Victorian-era house in the dark net where characters are required to learn how to interact, and can fulfill their darkest desires.
Goyette said among these characters is a government agent going after the creator of the dark net world.
Goyette said two worlds exist in the play, the modern and the Victorian. Each has its own ways of speaking and mannerisms, which creates a different physicality throughout the play while keeping a realistic and gritty tone. He said he thinks the way the play deals with such a modern issue in these two opposing worlds is compelling.
“It’s very relevant to issues of today,” Goyette said. “The play examines whether violence in a fantasy world causes damage to society.”
Goyette said the theme for the theatre department mainstage season is “What would you kill for? What would you die for?” American society currently is examining its values and priorities, he said, which causes people to question what is really important to them and where they see their lives going. He said all the plays featured this season, including “The Nether,” pose these questions.
Senior theatre major Jessica Emmanus, stage manager for “The Nether,” said she applied for the position last semester. She said stage managers who want to apply for mainstage productions usually have to submit applications to the theatre professors, who look them over before making a decision.
“Stage management is more about the people and less about management of the show, which is really cool,” Emmanus said.
Emmanus said the stage management process changes to fit the time periods in the play, but the specific changes depend on the director’s vision and the set.
She said she calls the lighting, sound and projection cues, and makes sure everyone is on time, healthy and performing the same way during rehearsals and performances.
“It’s a big responsibility, but this job is all about the relationships you make with the people, especially with the directors and the actors,” Emmanus said. “You’ll never know if the actor next to you will eventually be a director, or choreographer, et cetera.”
To find out more about the Truman production of “The Nether,” check out the Sept. 3 Index on Issuu.