‘Voice of the Net’ will premiere at the Dublin Community Leisure Center

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“Voice of the Net,” by local playwright Jeremy Llorence, imagines a future more twisted by the dark side of the internet than today.

Dublin’s Abbey Theater and Original Productions Theater are co-producing the world premiere of the sci-fi thriller, which opens at the Dublin Community Recreation Center on Thursday.

Set 20 years from now, mostly in the Midwest, “Voice of the Net” revolves around cyber threats, a mysterious cyber vigilante, and a small federal task force dedicated to fighting internet crimes.

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“This interesting piece shows how addicted we have become to the internet and technology and how it could have negative fallout in the future,” said Alyssa Ryan, Executive Director of Original Productions Theater.

As its name suggests, the 5-year-old theater company is on a mission to produce only original works.

“We want to showcase new and exciting work by playwrights, especially local artists like Llorence,” Ryan said.

Threats from the ‘net, social networks

Llorence, a University of Otterbein professor who received the 2018 CATCO and Greater Columbus Arts Council Fellowship for this piece, said it aims to explore the power of the internet and social media for good and evil in both 100-minute acts.

“This play is primarily focused on evil, the ability to spread hateful rhetoric online or harm someone online,” said Llorence, who began writing the screenplay in 2018 after hearing an article from NPR. on the online propagation of racist ideologies.

While Llorence was rewriting drafts in early 2020, Otterbein was hit by a cyberattack, prompting him to improve his plot about a US senator who receives a digital death threat.

“After the Otterbein cyberattack, I scaled up the threat to have the senator completely disconnected from the internet,” he said.

‘Voice of the Net’ is ‘fresh…with many layers’, says director

Abbey Theater Supervisor Joe Bishara has wanted to direct Llorence’s play since he first read it in 2019 as a CATCO Fellowship judge.

“If I read a play and can see it happening in the movie in my head, I get pretty excited. It was new, different, fresh and very poignant, with many layers,” said co-production director Bishara.

Playwright Jeremy Llorence, professor at the University of Otterbein.

“You think it’s gonna go one way and then it goes another… I was bowled over by this complex piece about how people use the internet for everything now, including how to inspire and activate hate,” said said Bishara.

Although set in the future, “Voice of the Net” offers a provocative perspective on today’s technology trends, Bishara said.

“The internet was supposed to improve our lives, but it’s also fueling fears and racism…as people today engage in gambling chats to recruit young men into dark causes,” he said.

Get really surreal

This is Llorence’s fourth complete play, following productions of other works in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“I like to incorporate elements of magic realism and Japanese surrealism, but I wanted to try something different in ‘Voice…’ by also exploring influences from Japanese surrealism,” he said.

By extrapolating current technologies, Llorence imagined plausible scenarios of how people might access the internet differently across generations – perhaps through Google Glass-style projections.

“Joe, a defender of this play since day one, really got it. He understands the rhythms, the movements of the piece and my ideas of what it should sound like,” Llorence said.

Bishara, in turn, had his design team incorporate computer projections, surreal lighting changes, and masks to reflect the characters operating online.

“When people are online, it’s like they’re wearing a mask – so we show that while they’re talking back and forth in video games,” Bishara said. “Almost every video game now has a chat room, so we’ve also identified ways for the staging to make it clear when characters are on the ‘net’.”

2 great ladies at the center of “Voice of the Net”

Unlike Llorence’s previous plays, which tended to focus on toxic masculinity, “Voice of the Net” revolves around two female leads.

Julie Whitney-Scott plays Detective Donna Lloyd, who leads the federal Internet Crime Task Force.

“She’s a seasoned officer, dedicated to her job and upholding rules and regulations, but she also has a human, friendly side,” Whitney-Scott said.

Lloyd investigated Daria (Nat Harper), a mysterious online personality who once helped hunt down bad guys on the internet.

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“Lloyd is in awe of Daria and sees her as supportive of his crime-fighting mission,” Whitney-Scott said.

When a senator is threatened, the Lloyd’s team steps up their online investigations and possible links to Daria.

“Personally, I’m paranoid about the internet and suspicious of anyone trying to contact me that I don’t know,” Whitney-Scott said.

“With cyber threats and the recent mass shootings precipitated by the internet underworld, this piece shows how dangerous social media can be if you’re not in the know,” she said.

Whitney-Scott first played Donna on CATCO’s staged reading in 2019.

“When we first did it, this fast-paced game wasn’t as relevant as it is now, but some things in the game are now happening in real life,” she said. “It’s almost like Jeremy can see the future.”

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In one look

Dublin’s Abbey Theater and Original Productions Theater will present ‘Voice of the Net’, at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. June 9-11 and 2 p.m. June 12 at 5600 Post Road, Dublin. Tickets are $20-$25, or $20 for per-device streaming from June 8-12. (614-410-4550, dublinohiousa.gov/abbey-theater)

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