Online, Off the Grid

By Alex Drinnen

Amazon’s Alexa knows your online history. Siri knows your schedule. Facebook knows your friends and family. Google knows your location. Your phone knows your fingerprint.

In a world run by tech, it can be hard to stay human. But what if there was a digital world you could escape to where you could be truly free? A place where you can be yourself and express your real desires. If you had the option, would you go?

In an all-too-real future, the Internet has been consolidated into a singular entity: The Nether.

This futuristic computer program allows real-life users to log on, choose an identity, and explore this lawless new digital frontier – all from the comfort of their own homes. All business is now conducted within The Nether. Even education is now taught purely online.

Detective Morris has had her suspicions about The Nether all along. When she discovers a secluded virtual “playland” called The Hideaway within The Nether, a developing criminal investigation ignites questions about privacy, fantasy, and the very nature of reality. Nothing will ever be the same again – online or off.

For Director Jason Cannon, the play is timelier than ever. “Swirling around the play are the concepts of agency and freedom of thought,” he said. “As social media and Siri and Amazon’s Alexa become ever more entwined with our lives, how is our understanding of each other and society affected? What does that do to everyone involved?”

Jason Cannon.JPG
Jason Cannon. Photo Courtesy of FST.

Cannon says he wants to put the art of the story first – not just in the intensity of the play’s dialogue and themes, but also in the design of the near future world. “We have to think in terms of what is essential in telling this sci-fi warning tale. When it is stripped down to its essence, the imagination of the audience is amplified.”

Before becoming a playwright, author Jennifer Haley spent 13 years as a web designer. So ,she understands the implications of a system like the one she writes about.

“The danger is not with content,” Haley said. “The danger lies more in spending so much time online that you neglect having a life and relationships in the real world.”

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Playwright of The Nether Jennifer Haley.

To Haley, role-playing games and theatre have more in common than one would think. “The very foundation of theatre is actors letting a new personality infiltrate their body – they put an avatar onstage,” she said. “When people go online and play different characters, it becomes theatre. They’re living out other stories.”

Actor Sam Mossler (Other People’s Money, How to Use a Knife) is excited to return to FST in such a profound piece. “I think the play raises issues that we will be forced to address, in real time, as the concepts of ‘identity’ and ‘morality’ continue to evolve,” said Mossler.

For fans of gripping stories of intrigue, moral questions galore, and tightly written dialogue, The Nether is sure to pack a gut-wrenching punch. As Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote, “you will probably not feel like turning on your smartphone as the lights fade to black.”