Super Vision is rife with artistic integrity – from the tight delivery of its storylines to the precision with which humans and technology seamlessly interact with one another on stage. At the very front of the stage, seemingly offstage, is a long row of tables. Actors/ technicians sit at these tables, attention turned towards the computers and cameras in front of them. Without the aid of technology, we see only their backs or profiles. It is through video projections that we view their faces, and through a sound system that we hear their voices.
The main characters appear on a raised stage just above the tables. Although they interact with the surrounding technology, we see them in their raw human form—not via a video projection, but as actual live actors on a stage. It is with these characters that we are meant to identify. Even though the powers that be may substitute our human identity for a collection of data and statistics, we, nonetheless, within our private lives live a very human life, which consists of all the basic emotions: love, fear, compassion, concern, etc.
Via the three stories that unfold before us, we also witness various human motivations behind the use of technology. In the case of the US family, we see a dark side of human nature take hold of available technology and use it for selfish, indulgent, and ultimately destructive purposes. In another story we watch a woman in New York interact daily via camera and computer with her grandmother in Colombo, Sri Lanka. With the additional help of e-mail and cell phones, the woman is able to ensure that her grandmother is well taken care of and can even pay her grandmother’s electricity bills from New York. In the third story, we see a Muslim man of Indian decent from Uganda, repeatedly bombarded with a myriad of security/identity questions at various airport customs terminals across the US. The motivation for the technology employed at custom terminals: security, fear, and xenophobia. (Although I believe that I am supposed to identify with this character – I believe him to be the protagonist—he embodies the characteristics of a suspicious suspect: he’s sweating, he’s anxious, his eyes are darting, he can’t stand still, and his responses to questions are not clear. Are these not the characteristics that we have been warned about?)
Super Vision draws a complex portrait of modern technology, exposing both its strengths and weaknesses and the strengths and weaknesses of its users. Technology can be manipulated and misused by individuals with the right kind of savvy (i.e. identity theft,) or by commercial businesses and the government, who can identify and target individuals as desirable or threatening. And, although technology can open lines of communications, it can only bring us so close to loved ones.
After the Saturday evening performance, someone I know raised a question, which I believe to be very important: when technology is used as an interface between the actors and the audience, then why have a live performance at all? Yes, a good question, which I thought about for some time and to which I believe I now have a satisfactory answer. For one, the technology employed in this production would not have astonished me if viewed through another medium, say film. We are accustomed to high-tech films. Rarely, however, do we see stage productions in which the technology is so readily exposed and so central to the theme of the production itself. If the actors that we see primarily through video display, were cordoned off into some backstage area and not visible in both the real and the electronic sense, much of Super Vision’s magic would have been lost. Instead, we have the satisfaction of viewing the actor in multiple ways and also see some of the normally unexposed intricacies of the technology.
Secondly, the play prompts us to consider the difference between what is real and what is virtual. Is there a difference, and do we not sometimes confuse the two? Is there a difference between who we are and the electronic data that may be used to define us? Is there a difference between being with our grandmother and spending time with her via netphone and a camera? Is there a difference between the actor on stage and the actor telecast? Does not the virtual take on a reality of its own? Super Vision is powerful in that we can readily view this contrast between real and virtual. It does not give us answers, but instead, we must draw our own conclusions.
Thirdly, we as audience members are drawn into this performance in a way that would be impossible outside of live performance. At the beginning of the show we are directly addressed and given stats about our make-up (e.g. relative income, level of education), based on zip code information derived from credit card ticket sales. Although we are never directly spoken to again during the performance, this initial address leads me to believe that this show has something to do with me; that the characters we see here are somehow a prototype for me and others that I know. In fact, the first character that we are introduced to seemingly lives in Seattle; he claims to have a Seattle address and phone number (actually, it is a 425 number—his mistake or the casts?)
Finally, Super Vision offers us the thrill, risk and humanity of live theater. Although the production dances between abstract and real, the characters exhibit real human qualities, which we relate to, sympathize with, root for, question, and detest.
Unlike many hi-tech productions, Super Vision does not leave you feeling cold and disconnected. It is however, dazzling, daunting and spooky. Although technology plays a major role in the production, it does not overshadow or upstage the characters. For the most part it is supportive and often serves to enhance and magnify the charcters human qualities. Many of the actors, for instance, we see in picassoesque like way; we see their profiles or backs and then their faces or certain other features magnified on screens. We hear their voices magnified. We see their dreams, imaginations given life and we see their psychological states interpreted. To parallel our direct experience of this technology, we witness through the lives of the characters how technology in the world around us likewise works to support and magnify human qualities: ambition, love, fear, discrimination, compassion, etc.
On a final note, I found it interesting to observe how I was not in the least surprised by the information and statistics that the Builders Association disclosed to us about us at the beginning of the play. Would this have not been shocking 20, 30, 50 years ago? Would this have not previously seemed as an impingement on our privacy? Most of us have passively accepted the new technologies around us –technologies that have brought vast changes to our culture and lifestyles. Have we had a choice? Is there anything we can do in response, or anything that we want to do? One response is to create thought provoking, artistically adept theater such as the Builders Association has done.