Nurturing talent and welcoming new stage works were reasons Susan V. Booth, the Alliance Theatre artistic director, created the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition. The contest transitions student playwrights to the world of professional theater. The winning play this year is “DATA” by Matthew Libby, which is directed by Booth. The play invites viewers to explore the human stories of Silicon Valley’s tech empire. Their ingenious use of new digital technology allowed the actors and observers to maintain a safe distance apart, while not compromising the quality of the production. Booth and Libby both joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to talk about “DATA” and its development.
How real-life people inspired the premise of the play:
“The play first started coming to me… the day that [Mark] Zuckerberg was testifying in front of the Senate for the first time, about Facebook’s connection to Cambridge Analytica,” said Libby. “It was… watching Zuckerberg evading a lot of those questions, and the kind of difficulty of getting a straight answer out of him, that started circulating a lot of questions in my mind about this industry, its priorities and its values.”
On the protagonist and his identity crisis:
“The thing I didn’t really want to do, was do another story that looks at Silicon Valley from the same Zuckerberg-esque archetype… a headstrong young white man, the kind of archetype that has become very mythologized,” said Libby. “The goal of these companies is to try to take a mess of data… and tell some sort of linear story out of it,” he continued. “It became clear to me that the kind of character who would be most challenged by that world is a character who does not know who he is, who has a kind of mess of information in himself.”
Tech-savvy production strategies for “DATA”:
“We filmed the entirety of this piece in a greenscreen studio,” said Booth. “We had actors beyond socially distanced… and took that footage, composited actors into digitally created environments.” She continued “You can’t possibly imagine that those four people, sitting in opposite corners of a giant green studio, could possibly look so plausibly, comfortably situated a foot and a half away from each other.”
“SUBSUME is a digital launching platform where… [audience members] go to a virtual lobby where you will adopt an avatar, who will be your presence in the lobby. And the lobby is set up as if it is the orientation for new employees of Athena Technology. There’s references in the play to people socializing at these new employee gatherings,” said Booth, describing the play’s unique online pre-show experience. “You’ll be asked to fill out a new employee questionnaire, which you might find ever-so-slightly invasive,” she hinted.
“DATA” premieres May 6 and is available to stream through May 23. Tickets are available at alliancetheatre.org.