WikiLeaks: a good subject for drama? We find out.

Local playwrights tackle WikiLeaks

Process | Vision

There's a long tradition in theater of plays being influenced by, or commenting on, current events. We thought it might be interesting to ask a number of local playwrights what they might do with something that's been in the headlines recently -- specifically, the arrest of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. We were curious about how different artists might tackle the same subject -- what aspects of the story appealed to them dramatically, what themes they saw in the story, and how they might go about turning it into a stage play. That's a lot to ask somebody to communicate in just a paragraph or two, but the playwrights who responded all approached the material from very different perspectives, and offered up what would make for different, if equally interesting, plays.

John Bueche

I don't know what the hell the WikiLeaks deal is. To me it conjures up an exotic bear, well, really a teddy bear based on some tropical exotic bear. With a bladder control problem, or maybe just a squirt gun. But he sort of rambles good-naturedly through life accidentally getting people and things wet -- there's the conflict. But like Rudolph his foible eventually turns heroic when he squirts a mugger in the eye or prevents a forest fire or something.

John Bueche is the executive artistic director of Bedlam Theatre.

Cristina Ham

What's fascinating to me about the WikiLeaks story is how they recruit people to become involved with their organization in order to gather this information in high places. It reminds me of when I was in undergrad and how the C.I.A. and F.B.I. had booths with information about their organization during our job fair week. I'm imagining WikiLeaks having a booth at the job fair and these undergrads decide they want to work for them, but once they do, the information they find out about the real WikiLeaks is much more dastardly than any information they could hope to find out about any government. Oh, did I mention this is a comedy?

Cristina Ham is a Core Member at the Playwrights' Center.

Cory Hinkle

For whatever reason, the first image that comes to mind is Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, getting a manicure from one of his assistants. Based on a few profiles I've read, I imagine he's a vain man who likes all the attention he's getting. So, of course he needs a manicure, because he wants to look good when he gives interviews and participates in panels. He probably doesn't own much -- just a MacBook, an iPhone, and designer luggage (he's always on the run) -- oh, and his leather jacket. He carries different colored dyes for his hair in a small black travel case. The sex Julian has is rather bland, though it did get him in trouble with the Swedes. I'm curious about the irony of a man who wants people in power to be transparent, but who is now quite powerful and very opaque. He's always on the run, dying and re-dying his hair, hiding from the world, and thus far, not really accountable.

Cory Hinkle is a Core Member of the Playwrights' Center, a member playwright of the Workhaus Collective, and he received two Jerome fellowships through the Playwrights' Center.

Jeffrey Hatcher

The premise is that Julian Assange moves from safe house to safe house, never sleeping at the same place twice. The stage is bifurcated -- two sitting rooms side-by-side. On the left, a wealthy couple are terribly excited that their Hampstead house has been chosen for tonight. On the right, a suburban couple of the "Keeping Up Appearances" type wait for a Repairman to come fix their television. A computer crossed-wire sends the Repairman to the Hampstead couple and Julian to the suburban couple. Code words, expectations, and the like lead to mistaken identities, sexual high-jinks, and the eventual arrival of both MI-5 and an inspector out of Joe Orton.

Jeffrey Hatcher is a multiple award winning playwright, and a member and/or alumnus of The Playwrights Center, the Dramatists Guild, the Writers Guild, and New Dramatists.

Carson Kreitzer

For me, it's the boy-who-cried wolf aspect that may be the most interesting ... the next WikiLeaks dump was supposed to be on the banks!!!! What if that one is actually more damning (which I'm pretty sure it will be), the actions revealed even more destructive to the lives of those not in power? What if more poor people are displaced, subject to violence, or even killed (by starvation or disease rather than bullets) by the movement of capital than by the current wars? How many of the current wars, in various parts of the globe, are caused by the aggressive movement of capital? (Violence surrounding diamonds, coltan, oil, etc. etc.)

What if no one is listening anymore?

Carson Kreitzer is resident playwright at New Dramatists, an associated artist with Clubbed Thumb and New Georges, and a member of The Playwrights' Center, the Dramatists Guild, The Fire Department, and the Workhaus Collective.

Alan Berks

Of course there is the spy thriller or farce of how the documents were leaked, or the character study of the founder of WikiLeaks and perhaps the question of whether he really did sexual assault someone in Switzerland or he's just being framed -- but, off the top of my head, what really seems to tickle me is the story of that strange bureaucrat who's job it must be to find out who's wife is cheating and -- what is he supposed to do with that information? Or I'm fascinated by the conversation with the German Foreign Minister when they decide that he's not too bright. I guess, for me, it's the little quiet everyday moments and passions that suddenly having meaning on this big important geopolitical chess board. Out of all that stuff, I'd probably dig more into the stuff about the dense foreign minister and the cheating wife and make a play from it.

Alan Berks co-created Thirst Theater, which produced more than 60 new short plays over three years, and is the Publisher of MinnesotaPlaylist.com.

Tom Poole

What I'd do with the story is change it into a family psycho-dramedy, about a nuclear family with a leak crisis. Dad has a vague job that could involve a leak but as the plot reveals itself it turns out every personal digital secret of the entire family, children and adults has been turned out into the public eye and the whole thing has become kind of a media event. Needless to say, the family's secrets are horrifyingly funny. It becomes a kind of closed-room mystery search for the mole, as the leaking continues and escalates. And since as a playwright I have no clue what I'm doing, the whole thing will go off in many bewildering directions and refuse to wrap up neatly. Oh, and there should be some nuns and Lutherans and heartwarming family shit. And ... scene.

Tom Poole's work has been produced at Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Magic Theatre (San Francisco), The Children’s Theatre Company, Park Square Theatre, and lots of other places. Honors include fellowships from the Jerome, McKnight, and Divine Foundations, an Emmy award, and more.

Deborah Stein

I'm super interested in the "dump" aspect of it. The sheer quantity of information that is making it impossible to know the significance of the information. So I wonder if there is some performance equivalent. Here's what I mean: One of the best website run-downs I saw was from The Atlantic, they had this sort of aggregator where every time you reloaded the page you could read a different nugget from the leaked cables. They're calling it "Cablegate Roulette," like Chat Roulette, and I think that's a pretty brilliant way to interact with this glut of information -- part of the phenomenon -- its strength and its weakness -- is how MUCH info there is, and part of our job as responsible citizens is to sift through the noise for the stuff that matters. Cablegate Roulette does that for you … or maybe not, maybe it's a diversion, maybe the information it isolates is not the important stuff. Is it information porn or vital insights into the workings of our contemporary world? Well, it's both, right? I'd like to make a performance that asks the same question, that interacts with the audience in the same way, asking the audience to participate in the valuation of information.

Deborah Stein is the recipient of two Jerome Fellowships at the Playwrights' Center, where she is co-producing director of the Workhaus Collective. She is the recipient of a 2009-2011 Bush Artist Fellowship, a resident artist at HERE, and a member of New Dramatists.

Adam Szymkowicz

I'm not sure I could write about Wikileaks. If I did, I think I'd try to create completely fictional characters. The guy who is trying to gather information but is terrible at it. Or if it's a cheating wife, it's the wife who isn't cheating and the guy tries to get her to cheat so he has something to tell. I think people who are terrible at their jobs are really funny. I also always try to find the love. Maybe the WikiLeaks guy has a lover that has to run with him wherever he goes and live underground with him. That kind of thing puts a strain on a relationship.

Adam Szymkowicz received a Playwright’s Diploma from The Juilliard School's Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program and an MFA from Columbia University where he was the Dean's Fellow. His plays plays have been produced throughout the U.S., and in Canada, England, The Netherlands and Lithuania.

Max Sparber

I'm interested in the idea that we might be living at the end of privacy. Not only will any document eventually make it's way public, but perhaps there is a future ahead of us where privacy just isn't a concern for a lot of people. And this is a good time to set a play, when we're right on the cusp of this sort of change, and so there is an old guard who is invested in keeping secrets, and keeping the details of their lives private, and a new guard that is suspicious of secrets and lives their lives publicly on the Internet, without it even occurring to them that this sort of everyday exhibitionism is incomprehensible to an older generation. To dramatize this, I think I would follow a leak as it works its way through the system, starting as a secret and moving toward full exposure, coming into new hands in each scene, and have each of these people likewise represent a further surrendering of privacy.

Max Sparber is a playwright and critic from Minneapolis. He writes the Max About Town column for MinnPost and is guest editor of MinnesotaPlaylist.com.