WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT
What would happen if electricity went away?
Mr. Burns, a post-electric play aims to provide an answer.
The play presents a world struck by apocalypse, stripped of technology, desperately searching for a way to return to society as it was before. In hopes of bringing back some piece of the electric world they once new, a group of survivors attempts to recall and recreate an episode of The Simpsons.
As the reenactment progresses, the second act shows how it might be portrayed seven years later and the third act shows how it might be portrayed 75 years later . The reenactment of The Simpsons conveys how culture could possibly be preserved and passed down years after it is torn apart.
Director Lee Neibert selected this play last year in an effort to bring something new and exciting to the Upstate theater program. “I think it’s an interesting contemplation of how beholden we are to electricity. How much is that keeping us satisfied and peaceful? You’ll see in the play that once that grid goes down, the world becomes a much different place, a very dangerous place. They are using this episode of The Simpsons to try to block out the darkness of reality,” Neibert said.
Students auditioned, and fifteen were selected based on reading skill and who fit best in the play’s post-apocalyptic world. They were given five weeks to study and rehearse their lines. During this time, a production staff made almost entirely of students was busy at work. The staff included student choreographer Dexter Simmons and student costume designer Alyssia Chaplin.
Senior Gabby Sassone is playing the role of Jenny– a woman from Baltimore in her thirties who has lost everyone she knows and stumbles upon this group of survivors. Sassone knew almost nothing about Jenny’s backstory, which made it even more difficult for her to bring her character to life. “This was one of the hardest roles I’ve ever had,” Sassone said. She hopes that the audience gets a true sense that in the world being portrayed, life as humanity currently knows it is gone.
Najee Joyner, a junior at Upstate, has taken on the roles of Sam and Nelson. Though the two characters are complete opposites, Joyner is easily able to transition between both. He hopes for people to “enjoy themselves and to get into the world of the play.” He also wants the audience to feel the seriousness of the issues the play presents and acknowledge that the future is unpredictable. Joyner admits that he has a technologically-centered lifestyle, which starkly contrasts the lives of his characters.
The roles of Matt and Homer Simpson are played by John Gibbs, who plans to either attend graduate school for acting after his time at Upstate or teach high school theater students.
Gibbs is a fan of The Simpsons, but he could not portray Homer in the same way he is portrayed on television. “It’s about finding the fun in (playing Homer), but also breaking it down to show how that character might evolve without media representation.” Gibbs hopes that his performance and the entire play will show how popular culture might change under extreme circumstances in which normal society is completely altered and deprived of the modern elements that make it thrive.
When the stage lights go out, Neibert and the cast and crew hope that the audience will view society from a different perspective, with a better understanding of how reliance on technology has shaped culture and a deeper appreciation for that technology.
By Asia Suber and Megan Robinson