Quill Theatre’s Brave New World Warns of Control, Emotion, & A Bitter Pill

by | Jan 26, 2018 | PERFORMING ARTS

O wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,

That has such people in’t.

— William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I, ll. 203–206

Quill Theatre is no stranger to Shakespeare. But the everlasting words of Miranda spoken above inspired author Aldous Huxley to write his famous dystopian novel of the same name. Now, Quill Theatre is producing Brave New World for its 2017-2018 season at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. And yes, to the Shakespeare fans: there will still be quotes from the Bard peppered throughout.

Directed by award-winning actor and director Maggie Roop, Brave New World speaks directly to the fears Huxley held in the mid-20th century about the rise- and potential horrors- of technology and control. Additionally, the implications of a monotone, restrained society without emotion and therefore human connection rings loudly throughout this production.

“The ideas that Huxley presents about our susceptibility to manipulation based on our desire for distraction, entertainment, and mind-altering experiences have really struck me,” said Roop. “I find myself moving throughout my day observing human behavior around me that isn’t that far off from what is being suggested about people’s willingness to be controlled, told what to do, and how to think and behave.”

Joseph Bromfield, (Henry Foster; High Priest; Arch-Community Songster), said Huxley was already troubled by the ramifications of the technological process he was seeing. 

“I can hardly imagine what he might say if he saw our modern world of demands-filled-instantaneously-with-the-click-of-a-button, smartphones, unlimited digital space, massive information archives, and phrases like “fake news” entering the political arena,” he said.

It is rather opportune how Quill wishes to discuss the possibility of what our future could look like during a time when our technology and regimes are mimicking decades-old dystopian novels.

“It’s just kind of relevant how all of our technological advances and things like that have often meant us disconnecting from one another,” said Rachel Hindman (various roles). Hindman goes on to discuss how the world within Brave New World warns against the dangers of the absence of human connection, a manipulative tactic utilized by the powers-that-be, mixed with the overwhelming rise of technology.

“They’re afraid to feel emotion. Well, they’re not afraid, because they don’t know what being afraid is. They don’t want to feel emotion, they don’t want to feel happiness, because with happiness comes sadness and other different emotions that are scary and unknown to these kinds of people.” Hindman’s reference to the little pills of soma given by the government to the different castes seem farfetched now, but have frightening possibilities given pharmaceutical and technological advancements.

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Although these themes sound rather daunting and dark (which, to be fair, they are), the meaning is sound. The speed at which we connect, compute, and control is increasing year by year. “Storytellers like Huxley, Orwell, Atwood and many others imagine and propose dystopian or false utopian futures as perhaps a warning, a cautionary tale, or a call to action. In times of political and cultural turmoil we are drawn to revisit these stories and compare them to our current circumstances and climate,” said Roop.

Since theatre is often a medium through which people discuss and hypothesize about our current situation, it is no surprise that Brave New World has been adapted from page to stage. Roop found the challenge of translating from the book to the stage adaptation to concentrate mostly on what went missing during the writing process. As with any page-to-other-platform transformation, some details are lost or adjusted. “Part of my job has been to take the play and hold that up beside the novel to create a theatrical experience that is clear and compelling and honors the source material in terms of tone and environment,” said Roop. “Some of the most exciting conversations in rehearsal are when we revisit how the action plays out in the novel and explore how we can capture the specificity and intention of those moments onstage while staying true to what the playwright has provided textually.”

With Roop’s background in acting mixed with her expertise in direction, the rehearsal process has been less daunting, according to the actors. Bromfield, who is no stranger to Quill Theatre, spoke highly of Roop. “I think my favorite part about working with Maggie as a director is that she never settles … she’s always teasing out better performances from her actors whether it’s week one or the final dress, and yet she always finds a way to encourage you and make you feel appreciated as an actor and as part of a company.”

Hindman added that Roop was very generous in her artistic freedom for her actors, all the while giving a guiding hand. “Being an actor herself … she’s been very open to what our ideas have been. One of the amazing things about working on this project was working with a director that was so open and so brilliant and so kind.”

The talent doesn’t stop here. Catch the rest of the colorful, adroit actors in Brave New World starting Feb. 2 at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. The play will run through Feb. 17. Tickets are $28 and can be found here.  

Photos courtesy of Quill Theatre

Jo Rozycki

Jo Rozycki

Field reporter for GayRVA/RVA Mag. RVA born and raised. Theatre nerd, french fry lover, dog-obsessed, die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan. Storyteller. William & Mary 2020, Sociology.

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