Working in theatre comes with a wide range of safety concerns. Some theatre artists work with power tools and use toxic and flammable substances (like paints, adhesives, and sealants); others work at precarious heights and in the dark; still others perform on stages with trap doors in the floor and heavy equipment suspended overhead. Doing all these jobs safely requires careful training, attention, and communication. From called-out warnings like “going dark!” to detailed reports from stage management that make sure even relatively minor hazards like a rough wooden railing are taken care of so no one gets a splinter, procedures are in place throughout the building to keep everyone safe.
As a dramaturg, the most serious danger I’m aware of at work is a bad papercut. At least, as far as my physical safety is concerned. Preparing for the production of Hard Cell, which starts rehearsals tomorrow, has made me think of a whole different type of risk. In this world of mass data collection and monitoring of online activity, what do my internet searches say about me?
A big part of a dramaturg’s job is to anticipate the questions that a play might bring up for the cast, creative team, and audiences, and to have the answers ready. In Hard Cell, a man of Middle Eastern descent is accused of planning a terrorist attack in the small town where his car breaks down on a road trip. The accusation is ridiculous, but in order to explain just what makes the local tough guy so suspicious, the dramaturgy team needed to research some serious questions. How do terrorists plan their attacks? What targets do they select, and why? How do people join terrorist groups? What do suicide bombers’ weapons look like? These things make for a rather troubling search history.
And, of course, this isn’t the first time something like this has come up. In the past few years, I’ve used the internet to find out:
- How and where to buy assault rifles.
- How to argue for more lenient penalties in sex-offender cases.
- How and why to become a whistle-blower (specifically related to surveillance by the U.S. government).
- How to help with an assisted suicide.
- How to plan and carry out a destructive act of civil disobedience.
So, to clear things up for whoever may be watching: I’m not planning to do any of these things. I just need to know all about them. It’s for art.