It began with a childhood reminiscence. Or possibly it was a dream. MIT Senior Lecturer Ken City couldn’t get the picture of a face in a window out of his head.
Ultimately he developed the imaginative and prescient right into a tough thought for a plot. Final 12 months, he shared an early therapy with Jay Scheib, MIT’s Class of 1949 Professor of Music and Theater Arts, and the 2 determined it could be the right alternative for a long-discussed collaboration.
That kernel of an thought has come to life as a harrowing, suspenseful play titled The Conquered, carried out Dec. 9 and 10 within the blackbox theater in MIT’s Theater Arts constructing.
The piece featured technical and storytelling features for which each professors are renown. Scheib, who served as director, made use of an enormous display to the left of stage that functioned equally to a jumbotron at a sporting occasion, giving the viewers an intimate take a look at the motion on stage. In the meantime the plot, created by the playwright City, included scenes of intense interpersonal battle which have served as an indicator of his writing profession.
“It was a brand new approach of working for me, having that a lot expertise concerned within the course of, however I felt prefer it actually helped to inform the story,” City says.
The play was distinctive for not solely the efficiency but in addition the way it got here collectively. The professors had little greater than a tough thought for the present till a couple of week earlier than it opened, main — deliberately — to a last, whirlwind week by which the staff labored on the piece at a tempo that resembled the move-fast-and-break issues mantra of a startup.
In line with that method, the weekend exhibits had been dubbed “work in progress performances” that gave everybody an opportunity to see how the story lived on stage in entrance of an viewers.
The efficiency additionally had a decidedly MIT really feel due to the technological material: City was partially impressed by tales he examine epileptic sufferers’ expertise with mind implants.
“Being at MIT has bought me excited by expertise each as a subject and a kind,” City says. “This venture additionally comes from listening to the varieties of work my college students are doing. … [Being on campus] has actually opened my eyes to expertise.”
Making a present
Within the play, Jane is a lately married middle-aged girl whose recurring nightmares immediate her to start seeing a psychiatrist. She’s prescribed antidepressants, which cease the nightmares, however she will’t assist shake the sensation that she’s being watched and one thing isn’t proper.
Ultimately Jane thinks she sees a person in her yard, prompting her to cease taking her treatment in an try to find out if her growing paranoia is warranted.
The story is advised by way of a sequence of intimate scenes between Jane and her husband, and Jane and her psychiatrist. Interspersed all through are bouts of fast, hair-raising dialogue as Jane reads fragmented diary passages expressing her secret misery and self-doubt. An eerie rating designed by Christian Frederickson, a technical teacher at MIT, made the viewers really feel Jane’s panic as she unravels the horrifying reality.
The play was carried out on a stage designed to modify from Jane’s front room to her psychiatrist’s workplace. The massive display confirmed a reside feed from one in every of three cameras all through the efficiency, zeroing in on characters and giving the impression of being in a movie show.
The play got here from a imaginative and prescient City had as a toddler of seeing a face in his second-floor lavatory window.
“It doesn’t make sense and might’t have truly occurred, however that bizarre sense of the uncanny was one thing I used to be excited by writing about,” City says.
After stumbling onto tales concerning the epileptic sufferers with mind implants — who City says “felt as if somebody was dwelling of their brains”— he determined to merge the 2 ideas to jot down the story.
Scheib, who’s been at MIT since 2003, expressed curiosity in City’s thought, and the pair acquired a Fay Chandler Creativity Grant from MIT’s Heart for Artwork, Science and Expertise (CAST) final fall to develop the work.
This previous summer season, City went to MacDowell, an artist residency within the woods of Peterborough, New Hampshire, the place he wrote a draft of the play in three sleepless days.
He shared the work with Scheib, who started contemplating staging and expertise choices, however the two professors didn’t actually begin to collaborate intensely till every week earlier than the efficiency, a course of Scheib in comparison with a startup deploying its first product.
“It’s like quickly prototyping an thought and making use of it to what’s usually a really sluggish course of,” Scheib says. “We’re reversing the standard American theater course of in a way. … I like to include the technical features on day one, so it offers all features of manufacturing the chance to fireside on the identical piston.”
A educating alternative
The play and the method behind it additionally served as a mannequin for City and Scheib’s college students to study from.
“We’ve been in a position to deal with the theater the identical approach you would possibly use the labs on campus.” Scheib says.
City confirmed his playwriting class 21M.604J (Playwriting Fundamentals) an early therapy of the play and later a draft of the primary scene. College students from 21M.711, Scheib’s reside cinema efficiency course, labored with him on the set whereas he directed. Each professors invited college students to rehearsals the week earlier than the play and requested them to take notes on the displaying to see the way it all got here collectively.
“Plenty of the issues we’re doing on this play are actually an extension of what we do in our courses in some methods,” Scheib says.
City was altering and chopping scenes all through the final week, together with on the second day of the efficiency, when he rewrote three scenes and added a brand new scene.
“I do know the story of the play and I do know who these characters are, however I’m excited to see how, once they reside in actual area on this world we’re creating, that modifications the story or amplifies various things,” City stated earlier than the present.
Scheib additionally bought a brand new perspective whereas watching the actors rehearse and carry out, and he says the play’s which means has advanced for him as he’s helped convey City’s writing to life.
“You by no means know precisely what a bit will imply till you’ve put it underneath sufficient strain that it reveals itself,” he says. “There’s an attention-grabbing theme within the piece I’m drawn to of forgetting. Forgetting often has a damaging connotation, however on this work, it has a extremely highly effective attract — it simply seems it’s not as straightforward because it appears.”