History Doesn’t Repeat Itself, But It Rhymes: New Paths

This guy.
This guy.

I recently realized that most of my body of work is about the past.

My first professional (-ish) production was an adaptation of a medieval Christmas pageant.  Minutiae, the first play I’ll have published (coming this December to a discerning bookseller near you), is set roughly 600 million years ago.

This year, I adapted Louisa May Alcott’s Civil War epic Little Women and I’m currently hard at work (well, not at the very moment I type this–because I’m writing this long awaited update everyone’s thirsted for–but metaphorically) crafting, with the help of several talented writers, the world of a 1923 speakeasy, which is set to open in January.

Things I still don't miss: Chicago winters.
Things I still don’t miss: Chicago winters.

Don’t get me wrong, I love old stuff. I’m staring at a copy of Kafka’s The Castle and a collection of Wordsworth poems on my desk right now. Open Source Theatre Project, the group I founded right out of college in Chicago, was specifically created to merge the past with the contemporary. We produced the aforementioned pageant about shepherds as well as a devised piece that explored the century of history surrounding a Logan Square comfort station. This spring, it was a joy to work with a long-dead author and breathe life into one of America’s most cherished stories. And the sprawling Speakeasy project is the most exhilarating work I’ve done so far.

I recently read George Packer’s excellent contemporary history The Unwinding, which posits that we’re going through a societal “bottoming out” that started decades ago. It cumulated in the death of American industry, a foreclosure crisis, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Walmart, Occupy Wall Street and Twitter. Packer explores the past century by fracturing stories of all sorts of Americans, from a Youngstown steel worker to a Joe Biden staffer to Jay Z to Alice Waters to Newt Gingrich.

What got me thinking about the future and my place in it was a series of interviews with Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal. He mentioned how technology is actually stagnating—we’re all excited for the latest iPhone but what about immortality? Flying cars? All the stuff Jules Verne and Philip K. Dick wrote about?

Science!
Science!

This also connected with my journalistic work covering tech and science. I’m not a technophile—I could care less about terabytes and megapixels. What I get fired up about are the volatile personalities (Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, whoever invented Snapchat) and the multifaceted stories of hope, money, and imagination that comes out of Silicon Valley.

Let’s face it: Silicon Valley is the most exciting place in America to be right now. Wall Street, Washington, and Hollywood are almost universally reviled. Very few college grads want to be Gordon Gecko or Rand Paul or Michael Bay anymore.

And for a playwright, the Valley’s storytelling gold is largely unmined. Aaron Sorkin seems to be biting, with his Greek tragedy retelling of the founding of Facebook and his upcoming Steve Jobs biopic (which sounds like it’s going to be awesome and not terrible like the Ashton Kutcher one). The folks at Wired are also pretty great at exploring the philosophical ramifications of our Web 2.0 world. But I don’t know of a playwright, major or minor, that is digging into the new, tortured soul of America.

A light bulb went off; I want to tell the story of the future.

Production-wise, I have a tentative spring opening for an untitled piece I’m working on right now—one that brings together Edward Snowden, Fairchild Semiconductor, the booming Bay Area prostitution business, space exploration, Daft Punk, etc., etc., etc. It will be produced in conjunction with a playwriting collective I’m with that’s been incubating for a year, name now TBA.

Working on this piece has given has become a midwife for others, including some backburner projects that are now gradually moving to the front burner.

Basically, I think I’m at the shore of a new artistic period for me, one that beautifully combines my location, my work and my art. And, according to current forecasts, by early next year it will start bearing fruit.

Perhaps I’ll be better about blogging (I think I’ve given up on empty promises about updating and will just come clean, for your sake and mine), but you can keep up with my fast-paced and oh-so-exciting life on social media (click on that Social Media Guru page—you won’t be sorry) or on my AllVoices site.

Stay fresh,

Barry Eitel

P.S. Here’s a good article (obituary, actually) in sync with some of my new ideas:

http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/09/focus-on-people-not-tech-and-other-impt-lessons-for-interaction-design-and-life/

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