Theatre makes the difference: How Network Reflects Society
“Great theatre is about challenging how we think and encouraging us to fantasize about a world we aspire to” — Willem Dafoe
Much before there was The Morning Show and many moons before Jennifer Aniston lost it in front of a live audience on television, there was Network. Written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, the movie Network was released in 1976 and offered a rare behind the scenes glimpse of how ratings are everything at a network. Chayefsky’s genius was applauded and the movie became a cult classic. In fact, according to theatre critic Chris Nashawaty, it was inevitable that the movie would become a play someday. Why, you ask? Well, Nashawaty argues that the tone and dialogues of the screenplay appeared to be written more for the stage rather than the screen hence its appearance on the screen was inevitable.
Appear it did. Network first appeared at Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre London’s West End in 2017. Its success on the West End soon brought it to the other side of the Atlantic to Broadway. The message resonated strongly on both sides of the pond, that live television is a circus and that ratings drive everyone’s value and existence on it. Network has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in 2000. In the year 2002, Network was inducted into the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame and in 2005, the screenplay for Network by Chayefsky was voted as one of the 10 greatest screenplays in the history of cinema by the Writers Guilds of America.
“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” — Thornton Wilder
And whilst these are amazing achievements, why are we talking to you about them? Well, Network made me realize how much of a slave to the media I am and perhaps it is time you contemplate on this thought as well. We all want to stay abreast of matters and in our rushed-off-our-feet lives, we take the easiest way to consume information. We read and watch whatever version is being presented to us and seldom do we pause to think about whether we are being influenced. Perhaps we don’t doubt the information being presented to us as we cannot imagine why anyone, let alone the big media companies would need to manipulate us. We often forget that media outlets need ratings to survive and that they are themselves sponsored by corporations who expect returns on the money they invest in them. As such, the very premise that media needs to be unbiased is flawed.
Network takes a dark satirical approach to pointing that out but points it out, it does. It is implied heavily and reminds me of this quote by Helen Hayes, “The good die young but not always. The wicked prevail but not consistently. I am confused by life, and I feel safe within the confines of the theatre.” Within the comfort of knowing that the production is a work of fiction, we are shown a slice of reality. As comically frightening the play may be, the reality is perhaps even more frightening. Being a performer, I will stick with the dictates of theatre in not telling you what to think but to inspire you to reconsider everything you’re being fed in the name of information.
As such, I leave you with this final thought by Brian Stokes Mitchell, “That’s the magic of art and the magic of theatre: it has the power to transform an audience, an individual, or en masse, to transform them and give them an epiphanal experience that changes their life, opens their hearts and their minds and the way they think.”
Jessie Fahay for Ripple Effect Artists. Jessie is an actress, playwright and author who is heavily invested in bringing about societal change through the dramatic arts. After years of working in Educational Theatre, as a public speaker, actress, author, graduate student, and her work with Landmark Education and United Global Shift, she has developed an even stronger commitment to making a difference through her love of theatre and appreciation for theatre-education as a vehicle. Thus, Ripple Effect Artists was conceived. With a committed team of Board Members, Actors, Directors, and Theatre Lovers, Jessie has seen her wish of pushing audiences from apathy to action come together and hopes to continue inspiring change in generations to come.