You can listen to Cloud 2020 incite here:

Episode One

Episode Two

Episode Three

Episode Four

Cast:

CHARACTERS

SURVIVOR 1: Katie Rae

SURVIVOR 2: George Dix

GHOST OF ARISTOPHANES: Martin Harvey

STAGE MANAGER, Sebastian Emmerson

STAGE HAND, Holly Fitzpatrick

JUDITH BLACKTHORN, Emily Carding, a 50-something woman from Cymer, Wales, and her daughter Phillipa, have moved to Shoreditch, so that Phillipa can be a fashion designer. Think Edina from AB FAB. She is descended from publicans and has a great fashion sense. She believes in the Old Gods and walks with Spirit, understudy Roisin McCay-Hines

PHILLIPA BLACKTHORN, Alicia Radage, Judith’s daughter (think AB FAB, as if Patsy were the daughter), we meet her in her the midst of Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress, but she turns the game around.

DEAN CARL PHONE: Martin Harvey, Dean of the Cloud 2020 campus

SOFIA GILDON: Olga Kekis, the philosopher and Professor Emerita of the Cloud 2020 campus

STUDENT 0001: Lizzie Connick

STUDENT 0002: Mima Beauchamp

STUDENT 0003: Liv Jones

STUDENT 0004: Roxanne Davies

STUDENT 0005: George Dix

CLOUD 1000: George Dix

CLOUD 2000: Bella Finlayson

CLOUD 3000: Katie Rae

Thesis, A Dialectic, (wears white vinyl and giant wings), Karl Rogers (role developed by Ethan Green)

ANTI-THESIS, a Mae West style Devil (steampunk) also known as Amazon or Glamazon, Alissa Clarke

SOCRATES, a smart speaker (like Echo Dot or Alexa), an electronic voice, Kara Reilly

All the Blackthorns are dressed in the latest steampunk/ Vivienne Westwood fashion. The Cloud 2020 campus has a strict dress code. All students wear white vinyl jumpsuits with a Cloud logo. (They look like Judson Dance Theatre dancers, quotidian, precise in their movements). The contrast between the two groups should always be an almost Manichean dichotomy. When we meet immoral argument we see this Mae West style devil stands in for the Blackthorns.

There is a town/gown divide. The Blackthorns represent town. The cloud 2020 campus is the gown.

cloud 2020 incite

Adapted by incite theatre company

Director/ Producer/Writer: Dr Kara Reilly

Writer and Philosophical Consultant: Dr Karl Rogers

Dramaturg: Dr Olga Kekis

Classical Dramaturg: Dr Maria Gerlomeu

Associate Director: Roisin McCay-Hines

Sound Designer: Josh Williams

Composer: Davidione C. Pearl and Daddy Longlegs Homegrown Revival

Script Development: Dr Gabriel Varghese

Associate Dramaturg: Pauline Eller

Assistant Dramaturg: Becca Warner

Assistant Dramaturg/ Production Assistant: Katie Templeton-Knight

Classical Assistant Dramaturg: Grace Gallagher-Hall

Classical Assistant Dramaturg: Amber Ash

Classical Assistant Dramaturg: Josh Werrett

Marketing Director: Matt Smith

Sound Assistant: Daisy Wakefield

Advisors:

Radio Drama:

Peter Wild, Radio Drama Consultant

Dr. Meron Langsner, Radio Drama Consultant

Cranes in Ancient Greek Theatre – Josh Werrett, Assistant Classical Dramaturg

One aspect of the ancient Greek text which caused several issues during the conversion into a modern, radio adaptation was Aristophanes’ use of the crane. In our version, the use of technology and the pervasive theme of technomimesis are extremely important; in the original Clouds, the crane was an established piece of dramatic technology, which Aristophanes used in a fresh and controversial way – thus, finding a suitable representation of the crane was a vital part of our creative process.

Before discussing the use of the crane in the Clouds 2020 Incite production, I would like to briefly explore its use in the ancient dramatic and theatrical tradition. In the ancient world, it is likely that mechanical cranes were originally used for purely industrial means, lifting heavy cargo onto ships at the Greek docks (Ley (2015)). In a culture which appears to have been massively interested in the arts and the theatre, however, the Athenians began to use this technology in their dramatic productions. Owing to theatrical and archaeological evidence, and a fair amount of educated guesswork, much can be asserted about the practical and mechanical aspect of the crane’s workings:

1. It was situated by the right parodos.

2. It was largely hidden from the audience’s sight.

3. It operated above the skene.

4. The actors were carries to the roof in the middle of the skene.

5. The load was around 2500N.

6. The main element was a beam having planar motion about a pivot.

7. The mechanism could provide vertical, as well as planar, motion.

8. The operators (mechanopoioi) could control the load.

9. Wheels were used to control the functionality of the mechane.

10. The actors were supported by either a harness or a trapeze, which was itself hanging from the beam by at least two ropes. (Papadogiannis, Tsakoumaki, Chondros (2009): 5).

Several working, mechanical reconstructions of the crane have been attempted, with varying levels of successful verisimilitude. The exact mechanical workings of the crane are beyond the scope of this investigation and, in any case, is a question which is very much open to interpretation, but a few useful reconstructions of the mechane, namely, those of Bieber, Bulle and Wirsing, and Mastronarde, are elucidated in detail in Ashby (1999).

From a theatrical, rather than a mechanical, point of view, the crane has one key function: to provide a higher plane which facilitates the appearance of flight (most often for gods). This use of the god’s appearance, the deus ex machina (literally, god from the mechanical crane), is the most common use of the device: it is widely regarded that tragedians would write themselves into a corner with a complicated plot, with their only resolution being a god enter to clear things up (Euripides, in particular, appears to have used the deus ex machina frequently to resolve over-complicated plot lines, leading Aristophanes to mock his reliance on them in his Thesmophoriazusae, in which Euripides himself appears clinging to a crane (Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae 1098)).

Specifically within Aristophanes’ Clouds, it is interesting that the crane is used to support Socrates, a human, rather than a god. I would argue that this has two main effects: firstly, as will be explored later, it evokes the tragic theme of hubris, and it is comical that Socrates makes such an attempt at grandeur, attempting to be like a god, but fails spectacularly. Socrates attempts to show himself as similar to the gods, but he is a human performing pointless experiments under the guise of grandeur

(in the Clouds, Socrates is investigating the things in ‘mid-air’ (τα μετεωρα πραγματα) (Aristophanes, Clouds 229)). The pointless nature of his experimentation, his inferiority to the gods, and his general characterisation suggest a failure to achieve this grandeur.

While my exploration of the crane in the Clouds depicts the machinery as a tool for comedy, it is also worth considering that the crane is in fact overwhelmingly a piece of tragic technology. As suggested, any claim of equivalence between a mortal and the divine rouse the popular tragic motif of hubris – a concept by which humans consider themselves equivalent to or superior to the gods, and which ends in the punishment of the human for their arrogance. In the Clouds, Socrates, from his elevated position in the crane and following Socrates’ stereotypically arrogant characterisation, is said to look down on humans and gods alike (Aristophanes, Clouds 226). This example of human hubris gives a starkly tragic tone.

Attempts to balance the tragic and comic elements of the scene have led to an ultimate, controversial question: are the tragic elements of the crane purely peripheral to the comedic text, or do they have more intrinsic meaning? Revermann argues that the scene is overwhelmingly comedic, and that its apparent tragic elements are simply an allusion to the crane’s original role as a tragic tool – in other words, the use of the crane is so funny and so different to its use in tragedy that it is converted into a technology of the comic stage (Revermann (2006): 187). By contrast, Von Möllendorf argues that the unmistakeable case of hubris and the eventual downfall of Socrates’ institution mean that, in spite of the play’s comic nature, the scene and the machine define the tragic elements of Socrates’ character (Von Möllendorf (2017): 174). Overall, then, the crane is a tragic tool which sets Socrates up for his tragic demise in the destruction of the Thinkery.

One regrettable aspect of the study of ancient drama is that modern readers are at a complete loss as to the purely visual aspects of the theatre. Considerations of the visual aspects to which we have no access often come to nothing more than educational guesswork based on scanty literary and archaeological evidence. This need to focus absolutely on the non-visual aspects of ancient drama is also an obstacle faced when converting a text to a radio production.

The most obvious way of suggesting visual aspects over radio is to utilise the same methodology as written translations of plays often incorporate. Methodologically, the imperative in a written version of a play is to utilise written stage directions to suggest what the reader cannot experience visually. In a radio performance, then, it may well be the simplest solution to have the narrator simply state: “Socrates looks down from his elevated position”, “Socrates does X”, Socrates does Y”. This, however, is plainly a rather crass solution. Instead, the use of sound to portray the elements of height, mechanical movement, and mechanical technology may be more useful.

Our solution was to use mechanical noises such that it would portray the use of the crane, and such that it would evoke the same themes and ideas as the crane would have evoked in the original theatrical performance: namely, it was necessary for the noises to portray mechanical workings, but it was also necessary that it be funny and that it represent inadequacy in Sofia’s attempt at grandeur. The crashing, clunking, failing mechanical noises seemed to portray this perfectly. It is also interesting that the failing electrical and mechanical workings could be seen to foreshadow the eventual electrical downfall of the Clouds University, in the same way that the crane foreshadows the eventual downfall of the Thinkery.

Adaptation and Gerard Genette – Olga Kekis, Dramaturg

Cloud 2020 incite was born as a response to our concerns about what is happening around us in the world, in the Spring of 2020. We created it using Aristophanes’ The Clouds as a stimulus and an inspiration, and we used the ancient text as a scaffold on which we built our own construct.

Our work falls under the umbrella of hypertheatre. The term hypertheatre derives form Gerard Genette’s concept of hypertextuality. Genette used the term in literature to refer to any relationship uniting a text B (which he called hypertext) to a text A (which he called hypotext), upon which it is grafted. Genette called this process a transformation, in which the hypertext (text B), evokes the hypotext (text A), without necessarily mentioning it.

In the same way, hypertheatre and hypertheatricality refers to all the active links and connections which set a play, or script, or theatrical production in a relationship to a previous one. Hypertheatre is the active, radical and creative process of transformation which informs incite theatre’s adaptation of Aristophanes’ comedy The Clouds.

In ancient Athens, comedy focuses on a particular target in society, which the playwright feels is tearing the society down. It uses comedic tools to make this target look as offensive as possible, worthy of ridicule and even repulsion. Comedy is also a “call to action”, it incites change and invites revolution. Aristophanes’ The Clouds attacks the commodification of education, and moral relativism as it is being “sold” to students.

And so, we turned to The Clouds as a play which deals with the corrupt state of education and incites change. It drew us in as a comedy about the dangers of rhetoric and the meaning of “truth”. We were inspired by how Aristophanes uses comedy to urge us to reach our own conclusions and never to relinquish our ability to contemplate. We were intrigued by how his characters strive to explore the intricacies, premises and subtleties of an argument and wonder about the relative nature of truth and justice.

In our creative process, we found fertile ground to ask our own questions: who are the providers of education for our young people today? How do our Universities commodify education? How do educators and learners alike exist and interact in these “shopping malls of learning”? What is the value of what is taught and what is learnt in the world of austerity and precarity that we live and work in?

We found ourselves steeped in the creative process in the early months of 2020, when we could only meet and work “in the cloud” while the Coronavirus pandemic was around us. As a consequence the virus and its effect on our present but also potentially our future, became one of the main threads of exploration in Cloud 2020 incite.

Process – Becca Warner, Assistant Dramaturg

To understand the process of how we created Cloud 2020, let me first introduce you to incite theatre company. The aim of this company is to re-imagine classical texts as contemporary political productions. In short: to make plays of the past relevant to an audience of today.

Olga Kekis, Head Dramaturg, provides the framework for our practice in “Hypertheatre: Contemporary Radical Adaptation of Greek Tragedy”, in which she presents her theory of hypertheatre: the process of setting one play in a relationship to previous plays. It combines language from English Literature practice, namely that of the idea of a ‘hypertext’ (any text derived from a previous text, known as the ‘hypotext’. I especially love how she describes a play as a “living organism which is transformed every time it is experienced in a different historical and cultural moment”. Hypertheatre acknowledges that change is a natural part of life, and we should move with it rather than against it. This practice maintains the structure and respects the authority of the hypoplay, but understands the importance of making it approachable, and relevant, to a modern audience – or rather, of drawing out its relevance in more obvious ways.

It is also what she calls a “radical postmodern adaptation”: a text that “acknowledges the existence of this earlier work, yet which does not seek to preserve, but to dismantle its classical authority and to engage with it in an activist, dialogical way.” That way, we can examine and uproot its presented beliefs about things like gender, politics and culture, and so engage in conversation with it to make it relevant to discussions we are having right now. The hypotext should be a “hauntological presence” – much like the ghost of Aristophanes that introduces our play, it hangs around in the peripherals and informs the play rather than controlling it.

Another important facet of our process was that of counter-textual practice, which, as Hopkins says, presents an “alternative site of authority” from which to look at the performance. By providing research into counter-texts that may be a television show, film, book or another play, the performance can become more multi-faceted, and the dramaturg can fulfil their role as coming up with problems and challenges for the director and performers to solve in their process. Counter-texts are not always obvious in the end product as having inspired the play – for example, Children of Men provided ideas for the soundscape and background of the post-apocalyptic world of our play, but we did not quote much from it. Comparing this to the character of Mae West, which heavily features and is specifically named, they provide very different roles, but allow the production to have multiple layers, and look at it from a different perspective that may reveal hidden depths to the text in question even if it doesn’t seem to be directly relevant.

So, from all of this sprung the project of Cloud 2020. As we all know, coronavirus has had a massive impact on our industry as something that is dependent on in-person rehearsal time and collaborative working. However, out of this crisis, the project evolved into something different, and with it has come some challenges, learning curves and personal growth from cast and crew alike.

Making the leap from live theatre to audio-drama was a massive learning curve. One thing we discovered was that we were thinking about it all wrong, thanks to a workshop from Peter Wilde. The problem is that theatre is such a visual medium first and foremost, and we assumed that audio-drama isn’t. And while obviously it is audio-focused first of all, he pointed out that the words can act as a camera lens, and the audience of an audio-drama is creating the visual in their imagination. In fact, the visual can stretch reality much more, and the action can be much less static than a traditional play. Audio allows for an almost dream-like moving from place to place, for distorting reality in new and exciting ways. This epiphany was one that informed later drafts, and Kara thought deeply about how to set up the action in a way that would translate to audio. For example, how we would situate the audience in the seats of a theatre – what the world of that theatre was.

The process was one that was fuelled by collaboration, and we worked in the style of Charles Mee while adapting The Clouds to create a play inspired by the original text, and not chained to it. We started with a ‘zero’ draft, with the writing team making edits as rehearsals progressed to give the feeling that we were devising together in a rehearsal room. This allowed for the script to remain fluid and changeable, reacting to new discoveries, performances from the actors and research from the dramaturgy team. When something didn’t fit, we would discuss it and change it. It was a more methodical process, but still worked well.

The actors had to somewhat re-train, as instead of having to project for an audience, we considered the proximity of the audience to the drama and how we wouldn’t need to raise our voices as much to be understood, which could allow for more subtle, intimate delivery. However, we tried hard not to lose that dramatic delivery that makes the play’s exaggerated comedy work, and to consider that Cloud 2020 is still meant to be a play. How do we give the feeling of being actors while also not shouting into the audience’s ears? Also, we had to consider the challenges of overlapping dialogue, which would be hard for the audience to follow without a visual, and to think about the technical challenges of having a Greek chorus. With no visual cues and lag over zoom, it demanded a solution from our sound designer.

Rehearsals over zoom were slow and difficult, as it became harder for the actors to bounce off each other in the kind of organic way you could in the same room. However, it wasn’t impossible. After some time spent in the zoom layout, the actors began to work with the medium to recreate the dynamic, reactive dialogue of a live performance, which often involved more strategic delivery and overlapping speech to make up for the technical lag. There were also the obvious technical difficulties that come with unreliable internet connections, but we made up for it with patience and understanding. We combated zoom fatigue with regular breaks and were mindful of each other’s physical and mental limits.

Out of all of this, we have managed to create an audio-drama completely remotely, and tried to transfer that energy of radically adapting Aristophanes to radically adapting to the times we are living in.

Sources:

Hypertheatre: Contemporary Adaptation of Classical Greek Tragedy by Olga Kekis

Research, Counter-text, Performance: Reconsidering the (Textual) Authority of the Dramaturg by D.J Hopkins

The Clouds by Aristophanes

Children of Men

Mirrors – Amber Ash, Assistant Classical Dramaturg

Adapting a classical text brings with it issues of anachronism, and questions of how we can make the text relevant today. This is amplified in a text such as Aristophanes’s The Clouds, in which technology features so heavily. Significant technological advances have resulted in a disjunction between classical and modern technology, and how they create meaning in the drama. As a result, we were faced with the interesting challenge of translating ancient technology to a contemporary audience, maintaining the spirit and function of the old without seeming anachronistic.

Working on communicating the ideas of hyperreality and technomimesis, my role focused on the character of the Data Mirror. This character, and the scenes in which it is involved, were lifted almost verbatim from another of Aristophanes’s plays, Thesmophoriazusae, in the early stages of the script:

Euripides: Don’t worry; you look charming. Do you want to see yourself?

Mnesilochus: Yes, I do; hand the mirror here.

Euripides: Do you see yourself?

Mnesilochus: But this is not I, it is Cleisthenes! (Thesmophoriazusae, 233-235)

The joke here is that, dressed up as a woman in order to infiltrate a women’s festival, Mnesilochus sees the effeminate Cleisthenes reflected back at him in the mirror. However, it also reveals a trait of the classical mirror that is fundamental to our presentation of technology in cloud 2020 incite – that of distortion.

Maria Gerolemou, the Classical Dramaturg for this project, tells us that ancient mirrors do not reflect the world objectively, being made not of glass but metal. This metal does not shine like a modern mirror, nor does it have a perfectly flat surface. As a result, it presents the user with a dim, distorted image (159). Reflecting and/or creating reality in a new way, mirrors were thus thought to disclose details otherwise hidden from sight. For instance, in his On Dreams, Aristotle suggests that ‘the organ of sight not only is acted upon by its object, but acts reciprocally upon it. If a woman looks into a highly polished mirror during the menstrual period, the surface of the mirror becomes clouded with a blood-red colour’ (459b28-30). This idea that mirrors can expose more than what is immediately visible to the human eye complicates its relationship with reality, creating a potential for new perspectives – including those that may be misleading or false.

This is where the idea of technomimesis – mimesis through technology – comes in. While the Platonian concept of mimesis is based on static imitation, Aristotle defines it as a more active creative process (Melberg 45). In cloud 2020 incite, this is how technology functions. It does not merely reflect or imitate reality, but rather takes reality and forms something new. Thus, it presents an unstable ‘hyperreality’ – one that the staff and students of the Cloud 2020 campus live by, but which Judith cannot reconcile with her own perception of reality.

Writing for audio meant that we could not rely on visual aids to underscore the unreliability of the Data Mirror – its surface could not be warped or pixelated. That is not to say that visual aids were not instrumental in our understanding of what the Data Mirror might be: Daniel Rozin’s interactive mechanical and software mirror art was particularly useful to me in visualising how technology can simultaneously imitate and distort, and his Mirror Number 9 (2003) was for a while how I visualised the Data Mirror – a patchwork of data somewhere between the human and the monstrous. It was also a useful visual aid for understanding mimesis as a reciprocal process, as the mirror reacts to the data inputted, consciously or not, by the user.

Visual aids aside, we sought to represent the Mirror’s tenuous relationship with reality by other, auditory means. While the Mirror may insist that ‘Self reflection is paramount’, Judith does not recognise what she sees. Significantly, her data double is not just her own, but also bears the imprint of her daughter, Phillipa, who has used her device for gambling. It is indiscriminate in the data it processes, invading the user’s most intimate and dark secrets without accuracy or nuance, posing a threat to both privacy and identity. Yet it can also be wiped in an instant, as we see with Judith and the student resistance. By presenting the listener with contradictory information, in a Data Mirror that is objective, all-seeing, and yet simultaneously inaccurate and disposable, we encourage the listener to reflect on the unreliability and instability inherent in technology – a concept that can be traced back to antiquity and, in particular, Aristophanes’s The Clouds.

Works Cited

Aristophanes. Birds. Lysistrata. Women at the Thesmophoria. Trans. Jeffrey Henderson. Loeb Classical Library 179. Harvard University Press, 2000.

Aristotle. On the Soul. Parva Naturalia. On Breath. Trans. W. S. Hett. Loeb Classical Library 288. Harvard University Press, 1957.

Gerolemou, Maria. “Plane and Curved Mirrors in Classical Antiquity.” Mirrors and Mirroring: From Antiquity to the Early Modern Period, eds. Maria Gerolemou and Lilia Diamantopoulou, Bloomsbury, 2020, pp. 157-164.

Melberg, Arne. Theories of Mimesis, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Rozin, Daniel. “Interactive Art.” http://www.smoothware.com/danny.

The Sex-Positive Legacy of Mae West – Becca Warner, Assistant Dramaturg

In 1933, Mae West purred “Why don’t you come up some time and see me?” Into the ear of her co-star Carry Grant in the film adaptation of her hit play ‘Diamond Lil’. The result was instantaneous, and she cemented herself as a household name and one of the most influential women in pop culture of the twentieth century. She was an entrepreneur, writer, actor and real estate agent, with rapier-sharp wit. You might just have known her for her good looks and seductive stage persona, so what’s all the fuss about, and why did we put West in our play about capitalism, education and philosophical battles? 

Well, for that I’ll take you right back to the beginning of West’s career. She began working in the business at the age of eight and spent the next ten years of her live on the Vaudeville circuit. Even in her teenage years she was shaking things up, causing a stampede when she performed a dance move she called her ‘wriggles act’. From that day on, she continued to hone her character, which you may recognize from her films – the Mae West we know oozes sex appeal and speaks in double entendre, commanding the attention from a room with her charisma.  

Mae West constantly rebelled against the establishment, starting with a play she wrote in 1926 about a prostitute with a heart of gold that featured her as the main protagonist. When coming up with a name, she used the most inflammatory word she could get away with: ‘Sex’. Despite scathing reviews and that Broadway was in a commercial slump at the time, she attracted a massive audience and was eventually arrested for corrupting the morals of youth. 

After that, she continued to play characters who were sexually confident and open on the stage and screen, and ‘She Done Him Wrong’ was a massive hit, followed up by ‘I’m no Angel’ and many more. She became one of the richest women in America due to her intimate knowledge of all her finances and real-estate empire. It is an amazing thing that she had such success in a time where the catholic church was so influential in media censorship, and that she so openly flouted their restrictive beliefs about morality and sexuality for women. It was due to Mae in part that the Hays Code was brought about, forbidding amorous acts on screen and the punishment of characters that engaged in sexually promiscuous or violent behaviour. Despite how damaging this was to her career and how restricted she had to become in terms of how she could act onscreen to get around the censors, she persevered and never changed how she acted for anyone.  

So why is she the perfect inspiration for Anti-Thesis? In our adaptation, Anti-Thesis goes against anything Thesis says and refuses to engage him in proper debate, instead frustrating him with her anarchic, non-rational retorts. With West as an example of how women could engage with their sexuality without shame, she opened up the way for us to shape new realities for ourselves and re-imagine what a sex-positive womanhood could look like. Likewise, Anti-Thesis does not offer clear solutions but exists to shake things up, to ask questions, to rebel for the sake of rebellion because the established order isn’t cutting it. Anti-Thesis and West won’t be censored by restrictive elitist ideas about how an academic thinker should talk or act. They are anarchy in its purest form, and seductive in their ideas; an example of the kind of personality politics that capture our attention with bold statements and charisma rather than well thought-out arguments. Whether West set out to change the world or not, she did it just by existing and refusing to compromise on her personal freedoms, and that is the crux of Anti-Thesis’ world view. 

Network – Becca Warner, Assistant Dramaturg

Counter-texts are texts that we used to form the world of the play as inspiration. DJ Hopkins describes them as an “alternative centre of gravity” or authority; they help to create a robust world that is grounded in history. They may be a film, television show or book; they may or may not make an appearance in the final version of the play, instead existing alongside what is created, informing it but not actively referenced, existing more for the theatre-makers than audience. As dramaturgs, the team researched and reported on these counter-texts for contributions that would inform performance, direction and scriptwriting.

One such counter-text is Network, a 1976 American satirical drama that follows a network station, UBS, as they struggle to stay relevant. In the film, newsreader Howard Beale, who has a public breakdown on air, asserting that he will kill himself on next Tuesday’s broadcast. It takes ironically long for anyone to notice what he has done and try to wrestle him off-screen, but the damage is already done: that is, until network executive Diana Christensen convinces her boss that Howard Beale should have his own on-air show, where he functions as “the mad prophet of the airwaves”. His speeches resonate with an audience that are just as angry with the state of the world and are desperate to hear their frustrations echoed back to them.

Howard is often accused of madness in the film, and indeed seems from the offset to be suffering from a psychotic break. However, his messages have such a sharp clarity to them that you wonder if he has been driven ‘mad’ simply because he is seeing the awful truth about the world around him. He talks of a sharpened spiritual awareness, a connection with everything around him that allows him to see just how out of sync their way of life is with humanity’s natural rhythms.

However, this incredibly volatile situation cannot last for long. Howard turns on the very network which is financing his show, accusing them of selling out to the Saudis and ultimately being the downfall of his own show. We are reminded that he is just a person, and a vulnerable one at that, being exploited for ratings.

Another turning point which solidifies his downward spiral is a meeting he has with a shadowy executive, who plays into his delusions and manipulates him to his will. He speaks his language, talking about worship and religion in order to get him to worship the new gods of capitalism and currency. The “natural order” of things is the oppression of everyone under the “multinational dominion of dollars”, where there is no such thing as nation or people. The world itself is nothing but a business.

Howard begins to preach this gospel to his choir, but they (unsurprisingly) don’t want to hear that they are as “replaceable as piston rods”. They begin to tune out his messages instead of engaging with them. At the end of it all, he is assassinated live on TV by the network, having been wrung dry of every ounce of energy he can provide to the corporation he was trying so hard to escape from.

The film came out two years after the death of Christine Chubbuk, who committed on-screen suicide by shooting herself in the head in the middle of a broadcast. Rather than inspiration for the plot, the horrific incident was apparently merely an eerie coincidence that ran parallel with his writing of the screenplay. In the wake of the tragic suicide of Heath Ledger and the ridicule Charlie Sheen faced after his meltdown on the internet, it seems we are bound to romanticise pushing entertainers to their limit and the more public the spiral the better.

A particular source of inspiration for us when it comes to The Clouds was the network executive who only appears on-screen for a matter of minutes but exerts such influence over Howard that he

ultimately causes his demise. He influenced the imagining of Thesis, who is an academic, logical, rational orator. He references Network in his assertion that “we no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies… The world is a corporation. Capitalism is our body.” He worships capitalism, Jeff Bezos, and what he sees as the ‘moral order’. In this world, Bezos achieved a God-like status through his wealth and monopoly on everything people needed in order to survive the parrot virus, and Thesis argues that capitalism is naturally entrenched into us, equating it to something like a biological ecosystem that shouldn’t be disrupted. For those that live in the order Bezos has created, it is hard to imagine that we could function any other way. However, unlike in the film where Beale is wholly convinced by the executive’s argument, Phillippa has Anti-Thesis as an ally to help her imagine that things could be different. She tears everything down in the hope that something new can be built from the ashes. The question is, then, whether we can find another way of living that doesn’t involve submitting to an all-dominating higher power, or whether the characters are chasing an idealistic dream that can never be realised.

Sources:

D.J. Hopkins’ “Research, Counter-text, Performance: Reconsidering the (Textual) Authority of the Dramaturg,” Theatre Topics, Volume 13, Number 1, March 2003, pp. 1-17

Network, 1976.

Wikipedia.com.

Gods – Becca Warner, Assistant Dramaturg

There are a number of gods referenced in the play that come from Greek, Roman and Celtic pantheons. Judith’s religious beliefs are never solidified, although her practice of multi-pantheon worship is typical of neo-pagan religions such as Shamanism, Wicca, Druidism and many more. These practices are becoming more popular as society begins to imagine new ways of living in harmony with nature as an attempt to return to our roots and sometimes even as a reaction against major religious doctrine like Christianity.  

In terms of the Welsh Celtic pantheon, a couple of characters from the Mabinogion make an appearance (a book of medieval Welsh tales comprised from earlier oral traditions). One such character is Bran, a giant and king of Britain in Welsh mythological stories.  

“According to the myth, Brân had been mortally wounded and requested his companions to cut off his head. He instructed them to take the head with them on their wanderings, telling them that it would not only provide them with marvelous entertainment and companionship but would also remain uncorrupted as long as they refrained from opening a certain forbidden door. If that door were opened, they would find themselves back in the real world and would remember all their sorrows. Eventually, they were to take the head and bury it on the White Mount in London. All happened as Brân had prophesied, and his companions passed 80 joyous and delightful years. The head was buried in London, where it kept away all invaders from Britain until it was finally unearthed.” [Britannica.com] 

Although not technically a God, he is sometimes deified nonetheless due to his place in myth. ‘Bran’ is another word for ‘Raven’ in celtic, an animal that was said to be a messenger to the ‘otherworld’, and carries reverence for its connection to the Morrigan, the God of Death. The head was worshipped by Iron Age Celts as the seat of the soul and capable of life after death of the rest of the body and as being able to whisper prophecies.  

Rhiannon is another popular celtic Goddess that manifests as a beautiful young woman dressed in gold riding a pale horse, with singing birds flying around her that can wake spirits or grant sleep to mortals. She is known as the Divine Queen of Faeries, and was born at the first Moon Rise, and associated with the Maiden archetype of the Triple Goddess. She is the Goddess of fertility, rebirth, wisdom, magick, transformation, beauty, artistic inspiration and poetry. 

While our riding one day, Pwell Lord of the Kingdom of Dyfed, saw a gorgeous woman dressed in gold and riding a white mare. Pwell chased after Rhiannon, but could not catch Her, no matter how fast he rode. Finally, Pwell called to Her and She stopped.  When he asked Her why She had eluded him, Rhiannon replied that he had only to ask Her to stop.  Rhiannon and Pwell were married and Rhiannon gave birth to a son called Pryderi. When the infant was three days old, on the night of May Eve, the nurse-maids charged with watching over Pryderi fell asleep. When they awoke they found the baby missing and in a panic smeared puppy blood on the lips of the sleeping Rhiannon and accused Her of killing and eating Pryderi.  Rhiannon was found guilty of infanticide and was ordered by Pwell to spend seven years seated at the city gates confessing Her crime to all who approached and then carrying them to court upon Her back. 

Meanwhile, a beautiful mare owned by Teyrnon gave birth to a foal every May Eve and every May Eve the foal vanished. He decided to keep watch inside the stable and just as his mare gave birth, a huge clawed hand reached in the window to grab the foal. Teyrnon hacked off the hand with his sword and the foal was saved. Teyrnon ran outside to capture the thief but found no one . When he returned to the barn he discovered a beautiful baby boy, whom he and his wife adopted. After a time the couple noticed that the child had an affinity for horses, had supernatural powers, and had begun to resemble Pwell.  Teyrnon deduced that the child was Pwell and Rhiannon’s son and so returned him to his parents.  After Teyrnon told the story of how the child was found, Rhiannon was exonerated and again took Her place in the palace as Queen.” [sacredwicca.com] 

Cerridwyn is the last Celtic Goddess mentioned. She is associated with the Crone archetype of the Triple Goddess. Her name is derived from the Celtic word “cerru”, meaning cauldron. Like the Goddess herself, the cauldron symbolises the transformative power of magic, wisdom, rebirth and creative inspiration.  

Now on to the Roman pantheon. Venus is identified with the Greek Goddess Aphrodite and serves much the same purpose as the Goddess of love, sex, beauty and fertility. She is often depicted in the nude, and you may have seen her rising from a clam in Botticelli’s famous painting, The Birth of Venus. 

Pandora is a reference to Greek mythology you are probably familiar with. The first woman created by Zeus, she is an early manifestation of Eve that deals with the original sin being committed by a woman who succumbs to temptation. (See Mae West for a delightful re-imagining of Eve.) After Prometheus stole fire from Zeus to give to humanity, his revenge is to give Pandora the wedding gift of a box that must never be opened. By opening it, she unleashes evils and disease into the world. [greekmythology.com] 

There are two Norse Gods named. Odin is the principal Norse God and associated with Shamanism, due to his abilities to interact with the spirit world. In outward appearance he is a tall, old man, with a flowing beard and one eye (he gave the other away in exchange for wisdom). He is usually depicted wearing a cloak and a wide-brimmed hat carrying a spear. Tyr is the god of law and justice, and associated with war. 

The dreadful wolf Fenrir was only a pup, but he was growing quickly. The gods feared for their lives, so they endeavored to tie up Fenrir in fetters from which he couldn’t escape. When Fenrir laid eyes on the chain that would eventually bind him, he was suspicious, and declared that he would only allow the gods to put it around him if one of them would stick an arm in his mouth as a pledge of good faith. Only Tyr was willing to do so. When the wolf found himself unable to break free, he bit off Tyr’s arm. [norse-mythology.org] 

“It should be noted that, from the Germanic point of view, there is no contradiction between the concepts ‘god of War’ and ‘god of Law.’ War is in fact not only the bloody mingling of combat, but no less a decision obtained between the two combatants and secured by precise rules of law.” [norse-mythology.org] It is then no surprise that both Gods demonstrate in their physical appearance of the rules of justice: to get something, you must give something in return. 

Jeff Bezos is revered in the world of The Clouds as a God. He is a man alive today and the founder of Amazon, worth 111 billion dollars and one of the richest men in the world. With a wave of his hand, Bezos could wipe out world hunger – an immeasurable amount of power for one person that arguably seems God-like. Much like the other Gods, Bezos teaches us something through his life story about what we should strive for: the image of success that comes with vast wealth and profit. He is out-of-reach for us, as far away as Venus was to the Ancient Romans. If Bran was a man mythologised for his achievements as a King, will Bezos be the stuff of myth and legend a thousand years from now? Do people like Bezos, billionaires and celebrities, fulfil a role in our society that Odin and Rhiannon did in the past? Is this an inevitable part of human nature, or something we should fight and question?

Welcome to incite theatre

We are incite theatre company. We are a theatre collective dedicated to radical adaptations of classic texts. These adaptations are called hypertheatre. Interrogation of how representation creates reality is at the heart of our work. In particular, we’re interested in the social constructions of race, class, gender. We’re also exploring technomimesis.

We’re asking:


When did the body become separate from the mind?


When did the body become an object?


Does representation create reality? If so, is it possible that reality can be re-made through representation? We like to think so.