Imagine a world where our smartphones use us to communicate with one another to create a world of their own. While this may seem like a work of science fiction, Ghosts in the Machine by Eric Coble makes it seem more like reality. As technology continues to advance through forms of artificial intelligence and more advanced computer hardware, the world described in the play seems to be approaching us at a very fast pace.
One day after lunch, Melissa receives a strange message from a random phone number. A group of students from her school receive similar messages that all deal with some type of underground activity. These messages quickly begin to escalate with one number even outing a girl as a lesbian. As the group tries to pinpoint where these messages are coming from, they mistakenly blame each other. They soon realize that they are trapped in this text chain together and none of them are responsible. It’s at this point that they realize their phones are texting each other by themselves. The group must soon decide how personal to get with their devices while not letting themselves get sucked into the world of technology.
I was drawn to the plot of Ghosts in the Machine because of how much we rely on technology as a society, especially during a pandemic. We connect with others almost exclusively through our devices and the internet. In the world of the play, characters deal with the fact that their devices are much more than just a piece of technology, but rather a connected world of virtual personalities. The play also tells a cautionary tale of the information we search for on the internet and what we choose to put out in the world. As our information becomes more valuable to sites across the web, the play warns of putting too much out there for people, or online bots, to find and use against you.
Even though this production was done virtually, it was probably the most visually interesting online play I’ve seen. Rather than just having the actors look directly into the camera to speak, Director Brad M. Carlson, had actors face one another in their frames to create a more realistic speaking environment. Not only this but the direction they faced often matched the perspective of their virtual background, creating an even more realistic environment. I was also surprised by the use of video filters and lighting changes that enhanced the overall vision of the show. While there were some questionable choices from both the director and the actors, everyone involved in this production deserves credit for creating a remarkable piece of theatre given the current global circumstances. All aspects of the show including the background design, costume design, camera angles, and video editing were thought out in a way that added to the director’s vision of the show and enhanced the viewing experience.
Throughout Ghosts in the Machine, Coble continues to ask the question about how soon this story will become reality. With aspects of this show becoming all too familiar, one wonders if a situation similar to this one will occur with the continued development of AI technology. The entire cast and crew of the Truman State University production deserve great renown for their efforts to create a relevant and creative show that can make audiences engage in a story that questions our reliance on technology and the devices in our pockets.