Week 1: Questions
The first week is about questions. The first one is easy - what’s your name, and what do you do? The meet and greet - a staple of every rehearsal process’s first day. One by one the members of the circle name themselves.
Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of the Court, and director Jeremy Herrin welcome everyone and we sit for the first read-through. The cast sit around a central table, the creatives form an outer ring, listening, taking notes and adjusting ideas as they now hear the words live. Writer, Jennifer Hailey has arrived straight off the plane from L.A. She is with us for week one for editing, adjustments and insight into the disturbing future world of her play.
Afterwards, the designer, Es Devlin, talks us through the set and the video designer, Luke Halls, shows us a presentation of the projection. Es’ bold ideas draw everyone together and provide the founding pictures of the play which we’re starting to make. Questions about the design come from the cast - pragmatic ones, such as how do we exit? And thematic ones, like can the boundary between the separate spaces blur?
Jeremy asks Jennifer about the origin of such a provocative play - “For each new play, I would set an abstract challenge. This one was, ‘write what you hate.”’
A whole new set of questions arise as we embark on a detailed reading of each scene throughout the week:
What is the legal structure of the online world?
How far in the future is this?
What stage is virtual reality technology at now?
What is a ‘login’ in the future? Is it a brain implant?
How do you choose an avatar?
After asking what it means to “live online” nowadays, we watch a documentary on the online world Second Life and hear facts about brain based sensation technology.
Three visiting experts come and speak to us on relevant topics, and we plague each with a whole new range of questions that have appeared from rehearsals. Our first expert works in security for a large scale technology company and so must remain anonymous. She talks to us about the layers of the internet where you can be completely hidden, talking us through what Tor is, what it means to police the darknet and the reality of online jurisdiction. She flags up the ongoing development of virtual and augmented reality technology, as a hint to what future online platforms could be; proving that Jennifer’s conception of online life isn’t too far away.
Our second expert, Aleks Krotowski, who frequently writes for The Guardian on tech issues, talks to us about how internet use affects us, including our delusion that we can separate our lives into online and offline selves. She brings up the recent killings in Wisconsin over Slenderman as an example.
Our third expert, Heather Wood, a psychotherapist at the Portman Clinic in London, talks us through some of the thornier psychologies of the characters. Before we even ask the question, she states that the play is ‘psychologically accurate.’ Jennifer sighs with relief.