- Liz Lauren
- A scene from Stop. Reset.: J, the janitor from the future (Edgar Sanchez), and his boss, Alexander Ames (Eugene Lee)
At the outset of Regina Taylor’s new drama Stop. Reset., currently onstage at the Goodman, Alexander Ames, a Chicago book publisher, is struggling to figure out how to adapt his business to the e-book era. The play’s original inspiration was the closure of Taylor’s favorite bookstore, her neighborhood Borders, five years ago, but as it developed, Taylor realized that the subject was far bigger than that.
“Right now we’re going through enormous changes,” she says. “Technological changes, social changes, race, gender, sexuality, economics. You can’t trust the ground under your feet. Some people dig in their heels. Others give in. It’s how we deal with change.”
In the end, Taylor, like Mr. Ames, decided to embrace change. For Mr. Ames, that means entrusting his business to J, a janitor who is from 500 years in the future. For Taylor, it was a little more complicated. For one thing, if she knows anyone from 500 years in the future, he or she has not made it known.
“I did want to explore further the idea of the theater bringing the community together,” she says. “How do you do that in an age when technology is permeating everyday life? You connect with the audience in a different way. You challenge the traditional audience and engage an new audience, those fluent in technology.”
- Liz Lauren
- Regina Taylor
In practical terms, that meant setting up a website, stopreset.org, where members of the community can respond to the show and to changing technology, whether by making artwork or just by writing or speaking. It also contains supplemental material, including extra characters who never appear onstage. “People have the choice of entering the play before they get to the theater,” Taylor explains, “and then can continue the dialogue when they go home.” One notable example: in the play, Mr. Ames talks about how his wife left him to move to Africa, so a group of students visiting from Africa through WorldChicago imagined Mrs. Ames’s adventures in Malawi.
They can even have a conversation during the play: at every performance there’s a special Twitter section in the audience. “People don’t feel technology and theater don’t mix,” says Taylor. “But that’s the world we live in right now. I’ve been rather overwhelmed by the response.”
Throughout the play’s gestation, Taylor also consulted people in the real world in a more old-fashioned way: by hosting a series of dinner parties with writers, artists, publishers, and other people who were dealing with technological change. Among them was Robert Melcher, a publisher of pop-up books, who realized his company, like Mr. Ames’s, was threatened by the rise of e-books. Melcher took a sabbatical to think things over, but when he returned, he turned over his business to a group of technologically savvy 20-year-olds.
“They translated a pop-up book into an app,” Taylor says. “[An Inconvenient Truth] became as popular as Angry Birds. They were successful. They had made the leap into the unknown. The technological developments now are fascinating. What I love is that I can dive into a book, immerse myself, and become a character. People are finding ways of doing just that.”
Taylor notes that when the printing press was invented and books became more widespread, people mourned the eclipse of the oral storyteller. “They were up in arms. Books cut you off from society. You were in a room with a book. Where we are right now, people are on iPads and cell phones and devices, passing through life. They’re not connected in flesh and blood but globally. In these times, there are transformations. Things are being redefined all the time. I embrace this moment without fear. I do.”
Stop. Reset. Through 6/21: Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 Pm, Tue 7:30 PM, Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, 312-443-3800, goodmantheatre.org, $10-$40.