You can e-mail strangers in Bangkok, you can fax business contacts in London, but do you know the people who live next door?"
This is one of the questions Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre Company asks in its season finale, the world premiere of 28: The State of Humanity in a High-Tech World a multimedia production conceived and directed by Laura Eason,running June 20-July 26 at the Goodman Studio Theatre.
28 explores the ways in which modern technology fuels isolation and apathy in society, drawing from newspaper articles, TV shows and personal experiences. Creator/director Eason, company member and Lookingglass artistic director for two years, was inspired by various magazine and academic articles, specifically the work of Harvard's Robert Putnam and New York University's Neil Postman, on the topic of technology and how it relates to the current trend towards human isolation.
Eason was particularly struck by Putnam's article in The Economist earlier last year, revealing a study that the average American watches 4 hours of television a day--28 hours a week (hence the title). Putnam holds television and technology responsible for why so many social organizations have died.
"From those ideas about how Americans choose to live their lives and how technology has become a substitute for human contact -- people are having much less face-to-face contact--I began to develop the play," Eason told Playbill On-Line. "That's [watching TV is] how people are choosing to spend their leisure time, considering how busy everyone seems to be all the time. . . It's not only passive behavior, but you also lose yourself. It made me wonder 'why do people need to disengage from themselves for 28 hours a week?' There must be some pretty heavy stuff going on." The story follows nine interconnected characters, on all different sides of media and technology, such as advertising, film, etc. who come together in Chicago one night. Two are on the eve of their 29th birthday. Their stories are woven together by video, original text, and soundscapes. They are no longer strangers by the end of the show.
"We explore these big ideas.We have a lot of media [video, sound, etc.] We've used lots of media before but this is the most we've ever integrated those mediums in a show."
Another element that differentiates this show from other Lookingglass productions is the fact the piece tries to examine the role of theatre and why theatre is significant and relevant, even in the modern media age.
"Part of the show is trying to explain that [the relevance of theatre] to the audience. . .not through words but through actions," Eason said. "In the play we journey from realism into a highly theatricalized style. . . and through that movement, I hope people come to realize the uniqueness of theatre. Saying things to themselves like "I see the emotional response I'm having and how it's different than if I were watching some other art form"...through utilizing the techniques unique to theatre, we can bring the relevance of it."
"It is different and universal and valuable and needing to be preserved," Eason says of theatre. Considering Lookingglass' enormous success as an innovative theatre company, Eason certainly has reason to relay the message.
For tickets to 28: The State of Humanity in a High-Tech World, call (312) 443-3800,or refer to the Lookingglass Theatre Company regional listing on Playbill On-Line.
--By Blair Glaser