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The Lightest Distinction

Published onMar 29, 2014
The Lightest Distinction

“The theatre,” says Baudelaire, “is a crystal chandelier.” If one were called upon to offer in comparison a symbol other than this artificial crystal-like object, brilliant, intricate, and circular, which refracts the light which plays around its center and holds us prisoners of its aureole, we might say of the cinema that it is the little flashlight of the usher, moving like an uncertain comet across the night of our waking dream, the diffuse space without shape or frontiers that surrounds the screen.

—André Bazin, What is Cinema?1

How we see is crucial to our understanding of theater. In the theater—from the Greek theatron or “seeing place”—light’s granting of sight to the spectator is often a given tautology; it goes without saying that light allows us to see. As the above epigraph illustrates, however, the conditions of illumination allow us to distinguish between both modes of performance that cross from the real to the aesthetic as well as to distinguish between the arts themselves, as light and its reflective materials generate classifications between media to separate theater, film, television, and the digital. This essay challenges assumptions that arise between moving image media and theater by examining, indeed looking into, the common light sources that unite them. Focusing on differences between the live and the life-like, such as theater and animation, often ends up obscuring what they emphatically share: architecture to shade the sun and a love for the glow and projection of electric light. This essay also traces a small, theatrical historiography of lighting tools and techniques in order to rearrange media distinctions based on light and the power that brings it to vision. I focus on two transitions in luminous media within the theater—the shift from gas to electric light and the shift from real to digital light—exploring how the modern turn to electricity and the contemporary digital revolution extend and mirror each other. By putting pressure on the assumptions we have about light and its actuality, considering light as an assemblage of beings and things with dispersed levels of connected agency as well as an aesthetic ensemble that includes human labor, I challenge the distinctions that arise between the live and the life-like. To look into the lights is to see them as they are rather than what they project or pretend to be. In order to re-examine distinctions between the stage and the screen, I offer the commands the actors in Peter Handke’s Offending the Audience speak in order to disavow their performance as a performance: “You don’t see brightness pretending to be other brightness. You don’t see any light that pretends to be another light.”2

This is more than a playful phenomenological approach to performance media; it is one of (new) material and ecological concern. One need only view an electrically luminous earth from a nightly orbit to see the material impact of the electrical assemblage. This global array of light resonates within theatrical practice as contemporary theater adds more light sources to the scenic designer’s toolbox. Running parallel to these explorations is the proposition that the theater persists in the face of competing media due to its ability to guarantee their futures through a repertoire of theatrical light sources, design, and the space of multi-media. I explore these themes and historical moments in Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns: a post-electric play (2012) and its many media inspirations, specifically the 2012 production directed by Steve Cosson at the Washington D.C. Theater, Wooly Mammoth. Developed with the Civilians, a New York based documentary theater company, Mr. Burns stages these questions, while extending the specificity of electric light to the very narratives that flicker on our television screens. Washburn’s play re-stages television’s most enduring (if not endearing) American family, The Simpsons, beyond the collapse of the grid and nuclear catastrophe. As the longest running animated television show in history (first aired in December, 1989 – present), The Simpsons claims canonical status through sheer perseverance. Matt Groening, its creator, presented The Simpsons as a classic family sitcom narrative featuring an ill-tempered father, Homer Simpson, a weak-willed but firmly protective mother, Marge, and a cadre of children that initiate various misadventures. In the years since its 1989 premiere, The Simpsons has undergone narrative and media evolutions (crossed into film with critical aplomb) while essentially remaining the same animate icons, unchanging and ageless.

In the first act of Washburn’s play, survivors of the electric Apocalypse gather around a fire, comforting themselves and contemplating the catastrophe that has reigned down around them. For comfort they turn to the warmth of a fire and the soothing theatrical enterprise of storytelling. The subject of the play is this story as it is told, interrupted, and moved across the years as each act brings about another incarnation of the tale. The story that is recounted is an episode of television’s The Simpsons. As the characters onstage share information, we surmise that an extended blackout led to an eventual shut down and subsequent meltdown of our power grid’s radioactive cooling towers. We witness in the post-electric how the memory of a certain episode of The Simpsons is gathered together, performed, cared for, and moved through time in a theatrical game of telephone that is inflected by the horrors of the electric Apocalypse. Under the glow of electric lights pretending to be other forms of light, Mr. Burns presents the theater as a scrappy protagonist, surviving and extending electronic media via adaptations in lighting.

The second act of Mr. Burns moves seven years into the post-electric where re-enacting lost television episodes has become a favorite pastime and a central practice within an emerging entertainment economy. Seven years on, the survivors around the fire now comprise a post-Apocalyptic theater troupe. Trying to stage The Simpsons “just right” leads to theatrical competition as different companies seek to rekindle memories of television through authentic re-enactment of the bygone flicker. Fleshly humans, embodying the cartoons of The Simpsons, certainly distracts from the electric glow that hovers around Washburn’s play, but as the audience watches the theater troupe rehearse the cartoon, the real lights of the theater move to the periphery, highlighting the electric present.

I will return to Mr. Burns momentarily, but because it is a play that troubles the distinction between theater and television, it is important first to explore the luminous distinctions between bodies onstage and those onscreen. The differences between moving images and theater each pivot upon the matter, or rather the undecidable immateriality, of light. Both matter and energy, material photon and waveform pulse, the uncertain nature of light is the limit whereby we distinguish real matters and plays of light. In recent film scholarship that looks to motion as the new index of cinematic impressions, words such as real and actual come to align themselves with movement. This emphasis on cinematic motion derives from Christian Metz, for whom the movement of light is real, whereas the play of light is light pretending to matter. But isolating and extracting movement from the play of light is not a seamless operation. What Metz reveals is less the reality of movement than light’s status as both a matter of reality and a virtual impression: “In the cinema the impression of reality is also the reality of the impression, the real presence of motion.”3 The question of what moves, the reflective surface or light itself, is often the decisive point upon which we assume the distinctions between the life-like animate image and live theater.

Duration is crucial to this distinction, as cinematic movement is born out of the quick interplay of instances strung together. In the theater, light can maintain a consistent luminosity as the reflective materials (bodies, costumes, props, scenery, etc.) provide movement, whereas the moving image relies upon shifting instants of light over the fixed surface of the screen. This is an aesthetic distinction that scholars of both media and theater studies often agree upon. In “Moving Away from the Index,” film scholar Tom Gunning labels this a crucial disciplinary divide: “Theater, for instance, makes use of real materials, actual people and things, to create a fiction world. Cinema works with images that possess an impression of reality, not its materiality. This distinction is crucial.”4 In his phenomenological study of theater, Great Reckonings in Little Rooms, Bert O. States names the virtuality of images an “elementary fact,” which distinguishes theater from the other arts through the use of actual materials, where theater “consist[s] to an unusual degree of things that are what they seem to be,” as opposed to cinema’s luminous pretense to matter.5 Theatrical things, curiously, are “what they seem to be,” as States writes, but similarly to the cinema, the light of theater also appears as another brightness. Within the play and theater(s), light pretends. Outside of the theater, under street lamps, we see that some lights are always pretending. The light of the television shines as a window onto alternate horizons, pretending away distance and loneliness. Even the simple electric light pretends to be many forms of light. Does steady electric light pretend to be a lightning bolt or fire, the sun or synaptic connections? In its unceasing flow, electric light eclipses the cycles of the sun and burns on into twilight, usurping the role once granted to fire. With the flip of a switch, the light also pretends not to emanate from a vast network of mining operations, power plants, electrical lines, and fixtures.

Light pretending to be other matter is the very definition of virtuality that Anne Friedberg traces from Latin to the digital in The Virtual Window, her expansive study of screen and light. She writes,: “the term ‘virtual’ serves to distinguish between any representation or appearance… that appears ‘functionally or effectively but not formally’ of the same materiality as what it represents.” Friedberg acknowledges the materiality of light but, similarly to Gunning and States, she emphasizes its pretense to materiality as the dividing factor, where the virtual maintains “a second-order materiality, liminally immaterial.”6 Even if one emphasizes the material side of light (its need for a reflective surface in order to enter visibility or the palpable, striking radiation of its rays), it remains a distinguishing limit between how things really are and a virtual impression due to its existence at the very threshold of matter and pulse. The very undecidability of such distinctions also, curiously, reveals and maintains them.

As moving images venture beyond the walls of the cinema, as images move in “a cinema without walls” (Timothy Corrigan), this luminous distinction between the real and the virtual is heightened in theater and performance. Mr. Burns playfully stages this “crucial distinction,” as electric light maintains constant luminosity while pretending to be other forms of light over the course of the play’s three acts. To emphasize the luminous distinction between stage and screen, Washburn’s notes request lighting schemes that do not shift (in act 1, a fire; in act 2, daylight; and in act 3, interior after nightfall lit with ostensibly non-electric sources), all staged with electric light pretending, in some way or another, to be another brightness.7 The trick of light then, is to disappear into the fact that it brings visibility, a trick achieved through its speed and association with the instantaneous. For example, light is most noticeable when it unexpectedly bursts into view and when it suddenly goes out. Washburn draws attention to the lights by narrating an apocalyptic, radioactive blackout and an eventual rekindling of the electric flame. For these reasons, I focus my analysis on Washburn’s opening notes and the ‘book’ ends of the first production of her self-described post-electric play. That both the theater and electronic media rely upon “brightness pretending to be other brightness” points to the luminous connections between theater and electronic images. In Washburn’s play, theater winks not from the wings but from the electric grid, revealing what must come next as well as what has already happened in the surrounding glow. Washburn’s play hides the light source as ostensibly other, yet also hails it, forcing the audience’s gaze into the grid to prove that the electric glow is still with us. Despite the play’s premise, what is seen onstage and onscreen is also a projection of light.

Traditional distinctions between stage and screen have held within delineations of labor for over a century, with cinematic projection emphasizing a non-moving, non-active screen, whereas theatrical light projection illuminates an active play space. Yet in 2008, projection design was incorporated as a trial membership position into the theatrical United Scenic Artists labor union. This trial seems prompted by the affordability and flexibility of digital cameras, editing and animating software, and digital projectors, as well as the desire of designers to present a digital, mobile life surrounded by the moving image. A century after it dramatically altered the economic dominance of theater, projection returns (or did it ever leave?) for safekeeping as another light source among many; no longer the cinematic wonder, the moving image joins the theater grid, not only as one more instrument to light the stage, but also as an instrument that maintains a certain divide in theatrical design. It is important to note that theatrical projection design includes the use of monitors, which, unlike projection, aim the light source and moving image directly at the viewer. The confusion of projector and monitor, an often-crucial distinction between cinema and television in media studies, points toward a tendency in theater to collapse the moving image into a comprehensive virtual category, regardless of the apparatus that produces and/or supports the image. Through theater’s generalizing of the direction of light, Washburn allows the light source to speak for itself. If one considers the electric glow of television, a light source—or as Jacques Rancière describes it, “The set with in-built light”—then the re-staging of The Simpsons also allows the source to speak, if only to murmur the hum of ecological doom.8

Electric Ensemble

One of the most influential media scholars, Marshall McLuhan, similarly collapses moving images into one immense medium: electricity. He writes, “When electric speed further takes over from mechanical movie sequences, then the lines of force in structures and in media become loud and clear.”9 With these words from Understanding Media, McLuhan proclaimed the electrical as the inheritor of industrialization’s mechanical logos. In order to illuminate his proclamation that “the medium is the message,” McLuhan reads electric light as pure information, capable of replacing human associations in time and space with the promise of the instant delivered at the speed of light. According to McLuhan, new digital media are simply re-articulations of an old electric message: to deliver information at or as the speed of light.10 To give voice to information as the speed of light, McLuhan famously re-imagines Shakespeare’s Romeo before a television set as he speaks, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? … She speaks, yet she says nothing. What of that?” (Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.1-12)11 In Mr Burns: a post-electric play, all moving, animated images lose their mediated form, transmission, and archive in the collapse of the electric grid. The lights break, they break down and throughout the darkness echos the filament’s death rattle.

Washburn’s subtitle begs us to approach media and theater alike through the ubiquitous lens of electricity, the spread of materials that form electricity as an assemblage of matter (animate and inert) as well as what might be called electricity’s “ontology” of speed, instantanaeity, and mathematical precision. The latter is what Philip Auslander relates to disappearance and the ephemerality of performance in Liveness, his essential exploration of electronic media’s effects upon theater and performance. Auslander also places his “electronic ontology” within quotes, but follows immediately with a qualification about the material distinction, parenthetically asserting: “these initial observations will not pertain to film, of course, whose ontology is photographic rather than electronic,” as the digital revolution advances, however, the cinematic shifts from chemical to electronic image capture.12 The electronically produced image is the point of convergence between the materials that deliver instantaneity and its reflection, where the light speaks for itself as matter of fact, or as the fact of matter. Auslander explores how media appropriates and recasts the ephemerality of theater and performance. As Rebecca Schneider makes clear, however, this dismisses what remains of the body and performance, missing what bodies themselves record.13 The electronic image proposes that as we think past disappearance into what remains of performance, such thinking might also be accompanied by considerations regarding electrical remains beyond (before, after, and out of reach of) electrical disappearance. The electronic image arrives through screens, threatening disappearance as it flows on the currents of electricity, yet behind that threat of disappearance is a vast assemblage of remains that also shape the image, including, but not limited to, human bodies in service to the electric grid.

Washburn’s play begins after the fate of the electronic image is realized and when its electric form reveals itself as ecological destruction. This, in turn, births a sort of electric nostalgia, which quickly motivates the play, turning the theater into a scrappy protagonist that seeks to rekindle the lost electric flame. In addition to The Simpsons’ episode and the theater itself, light could be considered the play’s star, since the movement across acts does not rely upon continuous characters. Instead the play focuses on the progression of light; “All illumination is from ostensibly non-electric sources,” instructs Washburn. This leaves the matter of the light source undetermined, whereas its effects, its illusions, are outlined by act: “The first act takes place by firelight, outdoors. / The second act takes place in an interior under a skylight in the afternoon. / The third act takes place after nightfall, in an interior stage, lit with non-electric instrumentation: candles and oil lamps, probably, or gas.”14 Washburn’s description of her play is found above a chalkboard in the lobby of Woolly Mammoth Theater (upon which audience members scrawl apocalyptic epigraphs, like Bart in the opening credits of each episode of The Simpsons): “Mr. Burns is about the evolution of a particular species of nostalgia from a form of self-soothing…to a commodity…to a vehicle for digesting the really enormous change from a pre- to a post-apocalyptic society.”15 Although the program notes focus on Washburn’s interest in the survival and progression of narrative, the vague labeling of the play’s central figure, “a particular species of nostalgia,” offers additional candidates from the television to the resources of electric power to the lifestyle of an illuminated America.

The “thing” that is lost or longed for, electricity, is so complex an entity it can only be conceived of in relation to its parts. Some of the fragments are the media that depend upon electricity for every stage of its existence across production, distribution or transmission, and reception, such as the animation, video transfer, television broadcast, and domestic viewing of The Simpsons. Those parts, then, come to stand in for the whole without being able to describe or form that totality. The failure to comprehend this totality stems from the gigantic nature of the electric assemblage: its countless parts and processes; its unweighable mass of transformers, wires, and poles; and its unfathomable consumption and circulation of energy. In On Longing, Susan Stewart similarly locates this metaphorical gap in the gigantic, “What often happens in the depiction of the gigantic is a severing of the synecdoche from its referent or whole.”16 Electricity, then, and the nostalgia for it in post-apocalyptic times, belongs to a realm of longing linked to the giant, the sublime, and environmental surroundings, as if in competition (or alignment) with Nature. The particularities of the species that interest Washburn are these great giants of human creation, from the network of narrative (such as the lost electric archives and fragmented memories of The Simpsons) to the ubiquitous spread of electricity. Mr. Burns traces all of their survival, together, in the face of eradication.

Yet despite facing such erasure, the gigantic quality of the electric grid grants a kind of life to its component parts, challenging both human and subject-centered ways of thinking about agency. In Vibrant Matter, Jane Bennett explores how agency is dispersed across synechdotal parts as she places the gigantic electrical grid under her vital materialist lens. Building from Deleuze’s theory of the assemblage, Bennett elucidates an assemblage’s dispersed agency and materiality:

Assemblages are not governed by any central head: no one materiality or type of material has sufficient competence to determine consistently the trajectory or impact of the group. … And precisely because each member actant maintains an energetic pulse slightly ‘off’ from that of the assemblage, an assemblage is never a stolid block but an open-ended collective, ‘a non-totalizable sum.’ An assemblage thus not only has a distinctive history of formation but a finite life span.17

Right at the point of mortality, where things have a finite life, Bennett writes, “The electrical power grid offers a good example of an assemblage.”18 Like Washburn, Bennett begins at the point of electrical collapse. Less extreme than the projected future of Washburn’s apocalyptic play, Bennett’s example of the 2003 Northeastern U.S. blackout is illustrative of the complex relationship between people and things, technology and politics, that construct an assemblage such as electric light and power.

Bennett’s reading of the blackout locates within the electric grid a cascade of overloads caused by an imbalance between two intertwined forms of energy: the proper purchasable flow of electrons and the unmarketable reactive power crucial to maintaining the pressure of electric current. The key to Bennett’s argument is the difficulty in commodifying reactive power, which allows the market to throw the balance of voltage and reactive power off to the dangerous point of failure: “Reactive power, vital to the whole grid, proved a commodity without profit and thus came in short supply.”19 The maintenance of this balance reveals the grid as a lengthy list of parts that only partially expresses the “particular species of nostalgia” within Washburn’s play as it fails to include the mundane ways electricity affects our lives. Bennett writes, “the electric grid is better understood as a volatile mix of coal, sweat, electromagnetic fields, computer programs, electron streams, profit motives, heat, lifestyles, nuclear fuel, plastic, fantasies of mastery, static, legislation, water, economic theory, wire, and wood,” a list that neglects even the endless appliances and fixtures that exist solely in relation to electric power.20 Similarly, Washburn’s play comprises an assemblage of theatrical materials that construct not only new places and times, but lights that pretend to emanate from assemblages apart from the electric grid, imaging a volatile mix of wood, revery and memory, the sun, oil, wick, lamp, all illuminated by fire.

Alongside the concept of the assemblage is that of the aesthetic ensemble. In addition to the giant assemblage of the electrical grid, the play and the production highlight musical, theatrical, and authorial ensembles. In the lobby of Mr. Burns, the call that “the house is now open” is followed by the first sounds of music. A string quartet covers Daft Punk’s electronic pop-music masterpiece, “Harder, Faster, Better, Stronger,” adapting the singular robotic mantra into a classical ensemble. The house music flows from the lobby into the theater. The pre-show set presents no dividing curtain, revealing a dark and empty stage. The props and set of the post-electric play appear lifeless—gray inanimate objects. The audience leaf through programs. Within, on the origins of the play, or “How it Got Here,” Washburn writes:

This play was developed with the investigative theater group The Civilians. Much of the material in the first act is arranged from a number of generative sessions with the actors: Quincy Bernstine, Maria Dizzia, Gibson Frazier, Matt Maher, Jenny Morris, Sam Wright, and Colleen Werthmann. This play also contains material approximated from [The Simpsons‘] episode “Cape Feare,” itself a parody of the Martin Scorsese movie Cape Fear, itself a remake of the original movie Cape Fear. [The] Night of the Hunter is a mild influence on everything.21

In order to highlight narrative’s movement across time, Washburn’s play focuses upon an ensemble of actors (including textual actors), rather than a collection of characters. The ensemble is also echoed in the layers of narrative and media diversity that trace adaptations from the film The Night of the Hunter to The Simpsons, dispersing authorship beyond a single individual to an assemblage of humans and things and an ensemble of authors and texts. The mounting aesthetic ensembles allow electricity to emerge as an enveloping assemblage among many ecologies that form the “particular species of nostalgia.” As the aesthetic ensembles multiply, their dependence and relation to the greater electrical assemblage is revealed as the post-electric world yearns to keep the record and spark of electricity alive.

The lights dim to the beat of Britney Spears’ pop song “Toxic,” signaling the start of the show through an interplay of electric sound and light. The audience hums along, “With a taste of a poison paradise, I’m addicted to you, Don’t you know that you’re toxic, And I love what you do,” before its accompaniment falters as the song crashes into electronic distortion, noise. Then, finally there is silence as the speakers die in the electric apocalypse. Darkness floods the auditorium.

The lights rise first inside a barrel, the unmistakable slow electric fade-in transforms into a staged fire. A group of bodies gather around the glow, some distant and thoughtful, and others huddling close to the fake flames. We thus begin with attraction, like moths drawn to flames. The flames animate the closest bodies, sparking conversation and memory.

One character, Matt, speaks the first line: “It starts…the episode starts with Bart getting letters saying ‘I’m going to kill you Bart.”22

The characters struggle to piece together an episode of The Simpsons from memory. The episode Matt starts with is “Cape Feare” from The Simpsons‘ fifth season. The drama, the crisis surrounding this scene is that this is the only way to access The Simpsons now that the electric grid has imploded. Recounting the episode becomes a distraction for a group of people much more preoccupied with friends and family, many of whom were lost along with television in the electric apocalypse. This episode becomes the central narrative, the central “species of nostalgia” on which the characters focus, and the play’s subject as Washburn’s play enacts its evolution across time. Beginning with the first act where, around a fire, the remembering and shared recounting of the episode is “a form of self-soothing…”; to the second act, where the episode becomes a theatrical “commodity” that various troupes try to perform exactly after the lost animation; to the third act where the episode has entered the post-electric canon as a haunting warning of the pleasures and dangers attached to the electric spark, or, as Washburn writes, “a vehicle for digesting the really enormous change from a pre- to a post-apocalyptic society.”23 Recorded improvisations provide the foundation for the play’s construction and the choice of episode was, for Washburn and the Civilians, obvious based on greatest familiarity or “greatest recall.”24 As an audience member, I too found this choice “obvious,” as the same episode shines in my memory, unforgettable, particularly theatrical and, as it turns out, related to the history of electric light in theater. Although the play highlights these theatrical qualities, this parodic episode presents a tale of adaptation and television’s reflection on its theatrical histories and legacies of light, told through the ensemble of the yellow-hued (yet seen as white, like the yellow incandescent glow of electric light bulbs), American family.

The Simpsons’ eighty-third episode, “Cape Feare,” is a slick, complex twenty-two minutes of U.S. television, offering many narrative analogies that assist Washburn’s project of following a particular species of nostalgia as it moves onstage and across a traumatic catastrophe. Something of the theater surrounds this episode; its attempt at parodying and adapting is inherently theatrical. As in every opening segment, The Simpsons’ daily routine ends with each Simpson colliding in front of the TV only to be the target of another animated prank. The family’s collisions at the start of “Cape Feare” unwind into a chorus kick-line framed by circus rings, with an ever-growing number of performers joining the animated family in theatrical spectacle. Scattered throughout “Cape Feare” is the work of Gilbert and Sullivan, London’s most lucrative theatrical writing duo when electric light entered the theater in 1881. The characters’ memory of the episode, as it veers into theatrical topsy-turvydom with Gilbert and Sullivan, becomes central to Washburn’s play:

MATT: That’s right, they [the Simpsons] drive through a cactus field singing Gilbert and Sullivan ‘three little something something school girls we! ‘Three Little Maids from school are we! Something something something something! They’re singing Gilbert and Sullivan

JENNY: Because doesn’t… doesn’t, at the end

MATT: Because at the end, at the very end, Sideshow Bob performs HMS Pinafore. The entire, the entire Gilbert and Sullivan opera.25

Through Gilbert and Sullivan, The Simpsons claim the first electric theater, the Savoy—the contracted home of the musical pair—as an historical predecessor. The musical, episodic, short-segment based vaudeville show is often understood to have been surmounted by television, but the popular appeal of the fully produced musicals of Gilbert and Sullivan as well as the Savoy’s early adoption of electricity offer television a popular, electric, theatrical predecessor rooted as a writer’s medium. That is to say, although the short segment vaudeville show is a theatrical legacy absorbed by television and is an important part of this technological transformation—a history which can still be glimpsed in shows such as Saturday Night Live—the highly popular light opera musical form provides an historical lineage between theater and television that links popular writing (Gilbert and Sullivan) with electricity. As Washburn’s play illustrates, the theater also provides a luminous present and future for electronic images, as the legacy of the electric Savoy remains visible in the electric grids that replaced gas chandeliers.

Many of these theatrical nods within the “Cape Feare” episode circle around a recurrent, theatrical guest character, the killer clown Sideshow Bob whose murderous rage is born out of distinctions in both aesthetics and media. He loathes the popular chum of television and yearns for the gravitas of theatrical tragedy and comedy. For Sideshow Bob, Bart Simpson epitomizes not only the viewer, but also the champion of television. Under the crash of lightning and in a cramped jail cell, Sideshow Bob scribbles death threats to Bart, inked in his own blood. That is both how the episode and Washburn’s play begins, with the clown’s threats, ‘I’m going to kill you Bart.’26 You, the watcher of television; Bart, the object of television.

A recurring guest within the narrative universe of The Simpsons, we first meet Sideshow Bob as a dejected artist cast into the role of sideshow clown by an uncultured American audience. He speaks with classical diction as he grumbles about his work under the shadow of television’s most popular clown, Krusty. Sideshow Bob is also a clown, but his ridiculous, vaulting hair and oversized feet are no wig and costume. His physical features remind us of a classic circus clown, whereas television’s Krusty clearly wears a colorful wig and makeup to become a clown. It is as if Sideshow, like the theater, claimed the real in the face of television’s appropriation of the live. His desire to emerge from the shadow of Krusty is fueled by his more authentic clown-ness; born like a clown, his vengeance is also spurned by the idea of inheritance. As he naturally looks clownish, Bob wants to inherit the spotlight, not the sideshow. Bob wants to be the star, but his love of authenticity and history cast him into the role of sideshow, and this shift from the spotlight offers the justification for his attempts to murder. The generic American scamp, Bart, who again becomes the target of his vengeance in “Cape Feare,” frequently spoils Bob’s evil antics. As a substitute for Krusty in the killer clown’s eyes, Bart comes to represent television (itself generically American).

Sideshow Bob’s narrative offers one mode for thinking about the relationship of and competition between media: fatal contests for applause and audience. Indeed, both jockey reality and illusion by traversing the aesthetic spheres of entertainment and art. Auslander writes of the usurpation of theater by electronic media in just such fatal terms: “Television, as parasite, strangled its host by offering itself not as extension of the theatrical experience but as an equivalent replacement for that experience.”27 Schneider recognizes a similar trope when she writes about “medial leaps,” from theater to photography being read as a break in loyalty, “One medium recalls another medium by means, in fact, of betrayal.”28 Although theater keeps on, what is strangled out of it is the mass popularity that Bart Simpson now enjoys. But in Mr. Burns the theater is not strangled, it is rather relegated to the sideshow and it grows murderous as the televised Bart and his millions of fans keep it there. Bob’s fatalistic language expresses the murderous and festering rage that results from the disloyalty surrounding distinctions between media.

The Flame and the Spark

In the television episode, the theater is also the reason for Sideshow Bob’s failure to kill Bart, as he performs the entire HMS Pinafore at Bart’s final request, allowing the houseboat to float from Terror Lake right into the arms of the Springfield Police. In addition to his ego, it is because of Gilbert and Sullivan that Sideshow Bob fails. From 1871 to 1896 they were the most popular theatrical writing team in London when the electric light came to save the theater from gaslight and the dangers of fire. In addition to light operas, the Savoy Theater was the first English theater to work with the new medium of the electric light, paving the way for the electrically-lit television studio. If television claims Gilbert and Sullivan’s electric Savoy Theater as forebear, then what sideshow route did theater take, if any? Although interior theaters are electric today, this old art form can be slow to change, which makes it especially good at archiving its lighting techniques and practices. In opposition to the electric Savoy stood Henry Irving’s gas lit Lyceum Theater. Offering dramatic texts instead of light operas, Irving not only pioneered lighting design but also refused electricity as anything other than one more tool in a light and property designer’s tool box. Called “the first English producer to make an art of stage lighting,” Irving’s resistance to the electric light may not simply have been a luddite’s response to the latest fashion, insisting, as he did, upon the virtues of gaslight and his own use of electricity as a novelty.29 Irving’s preferences for gas and his insistence upon its place in theatrical illumination present another route by which the theater historically distinguishes itself from electronic media.

Literally an actor’s theater, Irving was a producer as well as a star actor and innovative designer, known for his exceptionally crafted, if overly sentimental, lighting designs. Irving was an accessible socialite, straddling Victorian distrust of the stage with a social grace that made him the first actor to receive the honor of knighthood. Sir Henry Irving’s success paralleled the Savoy Theater’s success. However, Irving never followed suit in installing electric lighting, instead persisting in using gas lighting until his death, itself a curiosity noted in theater history texts.30 Despite his rapacious gift for correspondence, very little in the way of a descriptive defense justifies his commitment to gaslight. A biography written by Irving’s grandson, Lawrence, mentions subtlety and control as the primary reasons for Irving’s attachment to gas illumination. His grandson hints at Irving’s attraction to fire, recounting how a near-mad Irving throws out the imposing electric light to restore the subtle flame (all of this occurs some nine years after the Savoy first flicks on the electric light): “Daly, when he took the theatre, had installed electric stage lighting. Irving had observed its effect, and as soon as Daly had departed he threw it out; for the subtleties of lighting of which he was such a master, gas was the only medium.”31 Irving’s manager at the Lyceum, Bram Stoker, finds illumination split among various departments. In his Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving, Stoker writes, “A gas light or an electric light is to be arranged by the engineer of that cult, whilst an oil lamp or a candle belongs to properties. The traditional laws which govern these things are deep seated in trade rights and customs and are grave matters to interfere with.”32 At the time, both light sources had their advantages and disadvantages: the electric light made the instantaneous transition possible in the theater, flooding the stage or darkening the house at the flick of a switch, whereas gas lighting required a tremendous team of lighters and, like theater’s distinction from electronic media, required more subtle shifts in light design. Gas lighting, in other words, favored the steady light that distinguishes theater from the luminous flow of alternating electronic images, and Irving seemed to know this before electricity began to dominate the production, distribution, and reception of moving images.

Constant, controlled flame inspires a healthy reverie, as anyone captivated before a campfire can attest. Washburn’s play begins in just this way before an open flame that sparks soothing nostalgic recollection. Unlike the dreamscape attributed to the cinematic screen, the stage commands a conscious reverie that is supported by fire. In his lectures on the gaze, Jacques Lacan writes of fire as intimately linked to our reflection upon the distance between what we see and what is: “The essence of the relation between appearance and being, which the philosopher, conquering the field of vision, so easily masters, lies… in the point of light—the point of irradiation, the play of light, fire, the source from which reflections pour forth.”33 Fire not only radiates light and heat, it is also a source for inspiring reverie and reflection, conscious thinking upon both the past and puzzles of the future. Forty years before Lacan, in The Psychoanalysis of Fire, Gaston Bachelard sought to replace the study of dreams with the study of reverie, turning psychoanalysis upon the pursuits of the conscious intellect in relation to the material world.34 Bachelard writes of the reverie in galactic, luminous terms: “The dream proceeds on its way in linear fashion, forgetting its original path as it hastens along. The reverie works in a star pattern. It returns to its center to shoot out new beams. And, as it happens, the reverie in front of the fire, the gentle reverie that is conscious of its well-being, is the most naturally centered reverie.”35 With these reflections on flame in mind, it is little wonder that Irving sought to maintain a gas-lit stage that sparks the televisual reveries of Mr. Burns’ opening act. Although Mr. Burns does not deliver the subtle play of fire, rather mimicking it and the reflection it precipitates, by presenting scenes that are ostensibly lit with non-electric sources, the electric light emerges as a pervasive medium that has vanquished the gas flame.

Irving’s commitment to gas lighting was further emphasized by his use of electricity as a novelty and special effect. Stoker highlights Irving’s use of sparks as “ingenious” effects, years into London’s conversion to electric lighting. I quote at length to highlight Stoker’s emphasis on how electricity is to be employed:

As an instance of how scientific progress can be marked even on the stage, the use of electricity might be given. The fight between Faust and Valentine—with Mephistopheles in his supposed invisible quality interfering—was the first time when electric flashes were used in a play. This effect was arranged by Colonel Gouraud, Edison’s partner, who kindly interested himself in the matter. Twenty years ago electric energy, in its playful aspect, was in its infancy; and the way in which the electricity was carries so as to produce the full effects without the possibility of danger to the combatants was then considered very ingenious.36

Here, Stoker aligns electricity with progress, while also demonstrating how the invisible becomes visible as Mephistopheles manifests in the “electric flashes.” Stoker emphasizes the novelty of electricity and highlights Irving’s “ingenious” use, hinting that to simply use electricity to light a scene is as pedestrian as a street lamp. Following this, Stoker proceeds to describe Faust’s other moments of pyrotechnics, placing electricity in the same category as visual and special effects. By discussing electricity in terms of luminous effect, Stoker follows upon Irving’s ingenious employment of the fledgling medium without comparing it to the Savoy’s use of electricity throughout house and stage. The implication, however, seems rather obvious. Stoker and Irving stress electricity as simply another kind of light, just not the kind appropriate to light whole scenes.

To the public at large, the electric light was touted as the safe medium. It flooded urban streets with illumination and reduced the risk of fire. In addition to safety, electricity was a cleaner, domestic option and therefore linked to not only safety, but also to nurturing, maternal comfort. Murray Pomerance describes the electric campaign as focused on the domestic and maternal, “Very like a mother, electricity protected us, nursed us, shaped us and guided us.”37 One could read Irving’s deployment of electricity during the sword fight as a violent use of electricity directly opposed to the electric campaign of safety. That the flashes of electric light also represent the demon Mephistopheles reveals the other side of the electric promise. Irving’s violent employment of electricity demonstrates that care and protection are only one side of a medium of force bent on domination. Almost a hundred years later, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera similarly presents a light source as a weapon. In fact, the very narrative of Phantom is bracketed by dates that align with the electric campaign. The play famously opens with a prologue set in 1905, as a chandelier faces auction (as lot 666), before illuminating and rising to life as the stage returns to 1881. Between 1881 and 1905 theatrical chandeliers were caught in a light war, between the warm, inviting glow of gas and the cool, safe hum of electricity (and a chandelier was certainly capable of mass destruction). The electric campaign was furthered by two gas fire catastrophes in 1881 alone: the Nice Opera burning killed 70 and the Vienna’s Ring Theater killed an estimated 640-850. Less than a quarter century later, 1905 marks the end of the electric light’s campaign and the beginning of its luminous rule over public spaces. That the chandelier plays a bit part as a weapon only highlights the distrust that can accompany the safety provided by light.

Revealing Light of Apocalypse

“Armageddon has hit!” I read off the website of Woolly Mammoth theater as I bought two tickets by punching in numbers off a plastic card into a button pad connected to a glowing screen. I switch electric pages on the global network, to purchase train tickets and bus tickets to the theater’s home in the District of Columbia; all this electric labor simply to move my body to a safe haven during the Apocalypse. Armageddon is, after all, a place where the chosen will be gathered together during the end times. Armageddon has reserved seating. The Apocalypse is about lighting. Apocalypse is a look into the future, a gaze revealed by the past; Apocalypse means revelation. From English, back through Latin to Greek, the act of covering, casting a shadow (καλύπτειν) is flipped off (ἀπό), revealing apocalypse (ἀποκαλύπτειν).

The radioactive fallout of the electrical already scorches the world of Mr. Burns, and this post-apocalyptic vision acts as a warning to the audience, myself included, not to put too much faith in the nurturing and comforting side of electricity. Electricity’s flip side is a tremendous giant, consuming and distributing power as a commodity extracted from the earth and refined into the electric grid. And we respond differently to this side of electrical promise. The ubiquity of the electric grid stands as a constant reminder of our level of dependence upon its provision, and this dependence manifests as a kind of furious, justified nostalgia in the wake of its demise. Stewart describes the different nostalgic approaches to things small and giant, stating, “And while our daydream may be to animate the miniature, we admire the fall or the death, the stopping, of the giant.”38 Our reveries are to stop the giant, to experience life apart and without. We admire stopping the giant even as it surrounds us and becomes our environment, because it either stands as an obstacle or becomes a mirror to ourselves.39

In fact here, at the site of distrust emerges a split where some media scholars explore the individual, social, and political actants that influence media while others explore the effects determined by technology. When viewing media, then, the question often is who or what we should distrust. The distrust most scholars have with McLuhan’s critique of media, or anything smacking of determinism for example, is that it simultaneously strips the spectator of agency and collapses the spectator into a universal human form without attributing any such power to the political and social actants that control media. The retort is that the electric base has the potential to supersede the desires of a public to shape and control media, as McLuhan writes with characteristic dark humor: “Electric technology is directly related to our central nervous systems, so it is ridiculous to talk of ‘what the public wants’ played over its own nerves.”40 McLuhan is frequently framed as a determinist, but it is important to note that his view of technology stems from the human form; not only the physical, biological body but also the space-less realms whereby the world is apprehended and translated through the senses. His word play, turning nerves into anxiety, illuminates both the physical and psychical connections that extend out of humans to our technologies (which McLuhan defines as extensions of man). The electronic image, then, is not merely a gathering of media under a single domain, but also an image with its own agenda: a strategic, electric one.

This electric agenda extends to the agenda of capitalism, to turn everything into a commodity, to hook everything up to the grid. Washburn’s second act investigates the evolution of a particular type of nostalgia into a commodity, tracing how soothing recollection transforms into a competitive theatrical enterprise of re-animating. The second act is literally a theatrical rehearsal for a naturalistic staging of the once cartoon episode “Cape Feare” replete with commercial intervals. Those who were gathered around the fire in act one appear in act two seven years later having formed a theater troupe specializing in the now immensely popular entertainment of re-staging The Simpsons. At this stage in the post-apocalyptic, nostalgia for television of the recent past is layered with demands for accurate reenactments and the theater troupe rehearses diligently to get their production as close to the original episode as possible. The performance of the commercials become insane theatricalized melody numbers, as live bodies attempt to stage the mania of television marketing. They are not the only theater company competing for audiences and no one survives this competition as the second act closes on the murder of every character that has been with us thus far. They are gunned down. Sounds of gunfire shoot over the heads of the audience. That another theater company shoots them brings competition to its violent, apocalyptic limit. Washburn’s eradication of her characters throws all the attention for the final act onto the survival and transformation of “Cape Feare” as it enters a third act under improvised, post-electric lights. Of utmost importance are the transformations that occur in the details of the re-telling, (re)staging, and remembering of the television episode. The final act is a transition from a commodity into a “vehicle for digesting” enormous change in time “from a pre- to a post-apocalyptic society.” In the final act, we witness the staging of “Cape Feare,” transformed into an eerie, violent musical reflecting upon the electric apocalypse. Sideshow Bob is replaced or transformed into Mr. Burns, the owner of the nuclear power plant where Homer Simpson is employed. Multiple transitions are effected in this character switch, drawing our attention from electric light to radioactive power, from the inconsequential to the powerful. Even Mr. Burns’ name evokes the transition whereby light ceases to be immaterial as it literally burns one’s skin. Mr. Burns and his radioactive towers remind us of the material consequences that lie behind seemingly placid electric light. As much as light is nurturing, radiation injures and reminds us that light is both pulse and matter. It shines in that uncertain space of transformation.

The Labor of Digital Rays

As one of the longest running shows in television history, The Simpsons straddles the transition of light from analog to digital. In their fourteenth season, well after “Cape Feare,” The Simpsons made the switch to digital production. By building The Simpsons animation in a virtual space, an additional stage of converting power into light is added to the animation process, especially since digital animation demands more processing power around lighting an object than moving it through space. In traditional animation, actual light aids only in the photographing, or imaging of cells, whereas color and shading provide subtleties of tone within the image. In digital animation, however, the computer greatly simplifies the animation of characters (with the ability to plot out paths of animate parts rather than having an artist draw the character movement frame by frame). Digital animation also requires complex algorithms and tremendous computing power to bring creations to light. Although the digital revolution seems to offer something in addition to electricity, computers remain electronic and it is important to recall McLuhan’s proclamation: “When electric speed further takes over from mechanical movie sequences, then the lines of force in structures and in media become loud and clear.”41

Other than the fact that it arrives on the currents of electricity, what does a cartoon have to do with electrical apocalypse? The answer lies in the tautological consumption of electricity by the assemblage of the computer as it renders electricity into virtual light space. Similar to the electrical campaign, digital rendering of electricity into virtual, navigable space (such as desktops, windows, and 3D environments) seeks to attract more users through ease of use, increasing the electrical assemblage by connecting an ever growing number of digital devices. Digital animation is essentially a lighter’s craft. Theatrical lighting design is the goal of digital animation, which desires the quick speed of natural illumination. Even if cartoons do not mimetically represent or offer the dimensional and visual realism of theater, digital animation relies upon virtual lighting design that aspires to a theatrical model. Advances in digital simulation, while not always in pursuit of realistic representation, do desire the ease and flexibility that lighting design offers in a real, as opposed to a virtual, space. The desire to make digital light operate as quickly as light in nature drives the electronic image toward overload. The lighting of virtual surfaces accounts for ninety percent of computing time for feature animation production and is the primary obstacle to efficient digital animation. Ron Henderson, Director of Research and Development at Dreamworks, defines computer graphic film production as a “digital manufacturing problem,” where the majority of what must be manufactured is a realistic rendering of light over digital surfaces and environments. Henderson also claims that theatrical lighting design is the goal of digital animation, as it strives toward performance efficiency. The labor of light is not simply a matter of computing time; it requires vast amounts of human labor as “lighters” often outnumber animators on a digital feature production, not unlike the enormous teams required for lighting gas chandeliers.42 The reason for this lies within the two forms of simulated light that media scholar Friedrich Kittler predicts as the fate of the computer, raytracing and radiosity. The lighting of digital objects can be achieved through two vastly different processes, which compete with each other as much as they are combined in animation. With the computer, electricity brings about luminous competition while remaining the immanent force, using internal competition to grow its domain.

Animation is the fate and not the goal of the digital. The digital is the dimensionless realm of numbers, a zero dimension that aspires to—if it aspires to anything—less dimensions, not more. In other words the digital does not want to go two dimensional, it wants to remains dimensionless. But in order to communicate with human operators, animation is its fate. In the preface to Optical Media, Kittler describes a media trajectory of light and image that moves through dimensional matter from three to zero dimensions and back again; from theater to the computer to virtual theater. Building off of Vilém Flusser’s notion of virtual abolition, Kittler’s trajectory of media is not traditional, although it summons familiar stories and characters: “The question remains what raised the cinema as pied piper above the old desires of theater. This question leads us back to lighting technology.”43 Slowly, out of the zero-dimension of numbers, early computers first gained one-dimensional command lines (text prompts) followed by two-dimensional user interfaces (like Microsoft Windows). According to Kittler, this dimensional growth is not the nature of the digital, but is employed to attract users, programmers, and calculators. In order to interface with more users, the computer had to build up its relationship to vision from numerical bits of physics into graphic simulation. This is why Kittler ends his Optical Media lectures “not with the oldest preserved silent film or with the latest program from RTL,” as he predicts his readers to anticipate, but with simulation, the domain of computer animation. He breaks simulation into two categories: those that “visualize the unreality of mathematical formulas” and those that “hyperrealistically reconfigure our so-called reality like raytracing or radiosity.”44 These two terms refer to computer graphic’s mapping light and its complex behaviors inside digital images. It is at the site of these digitally fabricated light sources where the electronic image reveals the labor of animation as well as its fated end and overload.

As a historical concept, raytracing can be found in most attempts to comprehend the rainbow through the application of geometry; tracing a ray of light through a rain drop and its subsequent shift in direction allows for the calculation of its virtual projection, emanating from and through the perspective of subjective eyes. In contrast to raytracing, radiosity projects a luminous source such as the sun through a totalizing approach as opposed to invisible ray after ray and surface point by point. Radiosity is clearly the preferred render approach to generating virtual worlds, but any totalizing approach consumes its promise in processing time and this is the threat of luminous overload. Kittler reduces the relationship, or choice, to duration, marked through the absent labor of the technician, or, rather through the animator’s idling time, waiting for the electric machine to calculate its global light array:

[O]ne starts up the algorithm, contemplates the as yet completely black screen, takes one of the coffee breaks so famous among computer programmers, then returns after one or two hours to have a look at the first passable results of the global light energy distribution. What so-called nature can accomplish in nanoseconds with its parallel calculation drives its alleged digital equivalent to overload.45

Reducing the massive amount of processing time and energy to light virtual objects is the primary goal of any computer chip intent on interfacing with more users. This goal is most frequently articulated in terms of image realism, as Mike Seymour writes in “The Art of Rendering”: “The modern chase for realism revolves around more accurate simulation of light and the approaches renderers have taken to provide the best lighting solution.”46 What is rendered is an algorithm into light and into vision. Renderers are themselves algorithms, the software that weaves virtual worlds out of numbers into light. Rendering is the labor of electricity and microchips, the surrender of the time of light to the machine as it builds a virtual world from zero dimensions. To bring light to a virtual image, one surrenders to the time of the machine. Rendering takes time, but it takes the machinal time of digital processing, which sends the operator off on a coffee break. Consuming massive amounts of processing power also requires a tremendous amount of electricity to both process and cool the stacks upon stacks of servers, known as “rendering farms,” all to bring greater clarity to the electronic image. It all begins to sound a bit tautological, which is why Kittler warns that “this hunt for realism should not deceive us with regard to the basic principles of computer graphics,” for the teleological drive of the electronic image is not mimesis.47 The electronic image is not spurned on by a desire to copy, but by a desire to connect the zero-dimensional digital computer to more users, users who happen to operate in two, three, and more dimensions. It is this goal that pushes the hunt for realism within the electronic image to its fate: electric overload, an overload of both the actual flow of electrons as well as an overload of dependence on electricity.

Mr. Burns stages this fate and, in doing so, draws attention away from the screen to the electric grid, both its own grid and the larger framework of the theater as somehow both an inheritor and archive of electronic media. At the end of Washburn’s play the electric light returns to the U.S. through the theater, born again as both a hope and a warning. In the last few pages Washburn describes a “SLOW ELECTRIC DAWN” that builds over the singing chorus:

a variety of fixtures: strings of Christmas tree lights, maybe old theater lights, maybe one of those artificial candle sconces or plastic electric menorahs, table lamps, perhaps even a chandelier, or two!, hung throughout the theater, are clicking on one by one. / As this happens the actors turn towards each light, indicating it with their hands, encouraging with each new illumination a greater round of applause. / By the end the stage is a blaze of light.48

Each light fixture is given a round of applause, encouraged to shine on. This return of the electric light accompanies a kind of nationalistic rebirth as the actors take up the final song “We are American” to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “For He Is An Englishman.” By bringing back the electric light, they reconstruct and hold onto the identity of an electric America: “But though swept from our foundations,” they sing, “Through our steely endurations, We remain American (O we remain American Yes we remain Ameriiiicaaaaaaan!).”49 Here, at the climactic burst of the song and the end of the play, Washburn writes, “the curtain slips aside to reveal the actor playing Mr. Burns, powering a treadmill. As he runs out of steam the lights slowly dim, to blackness.”50 Mr. Burns’ bodily labor, rather than his fortune and radioactive power plant, bring the electric light back. This emphasis on the working body of the actor is a technological extension of what Schneider calls “the hard labor of the live,” an extension because its liveness services electronic media.51 Mr. Burns’ transition from boss to hard laborer is a key transformation within the play as the promise of rekindling electric light rides upon a transformation in its production.

The ambition of this promise, where human labor and movement can replace the splitting of atoms in electric production, falls short in theatrical (re)production. In Woolly Mammoth’s production, a string of lights flicker and the curtain rises revealing a stagehand dressed in black, generating power by pedaling a bicycle. Yet the power generated by one individual is not enough to illuminate the lengthy list of light fixtures envisioned by Washburn. What is important, then, is not the amount of power generated, but the distance between the production of power and illumination. In Washburn’s final scene, electricity’s future is scaled down; production, transmission, and illumination share the same space. How long it will stay contained is, perhaps, anyone’s guess. As McLuhan warns “the ‘message’ of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.”52 The speed of electricity strives to overcome distance, mapping the scale, pace and pattern of human affairs onto its own instantaneous current. Taming or escaping the current is a difficult endeavor, revealed by the newly born electric lights aglow under the theater’s electric grid and Washburn’s haunting epigraph that collapses the flow of time and the current of electricity into a violent force of nature: “Every story ends on a dark and raging river.”53

In The Theater and its Double, Antonin Artaud connects the light of theater to the intense glare of a tragic sun: “In the theater as in the plague there is a kind of strange sun, a light of abnormal intensity by which it seems that the difficult and even the impossible suddenly become our normal element.”54 Modes of light can cue viewers to what is real and what is theatrical. But as Artuad points out, crisis, plague, and apocalypse can also shift light into the strange sun of the theater. Light reveals the crucial distinctions in life and media as well as the distinctions within and between scenes, something shared across life, stage, and screen. Light can draw in the subject, or shine with the impossible rays of a strange sun. It can soothe, become a commodity, or a vehicle for comprehending enormous societal changes. Light can signal the beginning or the end, or likewise reveal a murderous truth in plain sight:

OPHELIA: The King rises.

HAMLET: What, frightened of false fire?

QUEEN: How fares my lord?

POLONIUS: Give o’er the play.

KING: Give me some light. Away.

POLONIUS: Lights, lights, lights.

–Hamlet Act 3.2 267-272


Hans Vermy hails from the redwooded Santa Cruz Mountains. After graduating with a BA from Cornell University, he went on to work in production management at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence and as a film editor and production director in California. In 2007 his work on the short film The Replacement Child won the Suzanne Petit Film Editing Award from the Santa Fe Film Festival. Hans is currently a PhD candidate in Theatre and Performance Studies at Brown University. His current interests include notions of liveness, new media, and the performance of identity in cyberspace.

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