When director Amy Attaway started working on Jordan Harrison’s typographical dystopian play “Futura,” she had just bought her first iPad. One of the first news stories she read on her tablet was about Encyclopedia Britannica discontinuing its print edition. The sinister future Harrison devised, where handwriting, printing, paper and books are outlawed and all written materials are part of “The Big Collection” in the cloud, suddenly felt very close.
“When I first read it, I thought that it was set far in the future, very far in the future, like some crazy, imagined, super-distant world,” says Attaway. “The closer I got to actually directing it, and had a conversation with Jordan about it, it’s actually 15 or 20 years in the future. That’s why it can accomplish this magic trick of feeling so foreign and so familiar.”
Attaway, along with Gil Reyes and Michael Brooks, is co-artistic director of Theatre . The company’s second season opens Friday with her production of “Futura” in the Victor Jory Theatre at Actors Theatre of Louisville.
“Futura” is the story of four resistance fighters on a crusade to save books and writing. In the not-so-distant world of the play, the shift from print to screen happens first, when paper and books are outlawed. The government then assumes control of all books and written material and consolidates them into one master file.
Not only is there no more authorial authority, there’s no ownership of any written material.
“Every shopping list, every love letter,” says Attaway. “Nothing is private.”
The play opens with a professor delivering a lecture on the history of typography. She’s whisked away in a kidnapping plot and has to decide whether to join the organized resistance or continue on her own.
“We begin with a lecture and we end with a lesson, and in between it’s a crazy sci-fi action-adventure story,” says Attaway. “We learn what that’s done to the people of this world, what it means for privacy, what it means for creativity, and we meet four people who are literally risking their lives to change the future.”
Louisville theatergoers know Harrison’s work from the annual Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville, where several of his plays have debuted. His 2011 Humana premiere, “Maple & Vine,” about contemporary Americans who voluntarily join a 1950s immersion community and discover the simplicity they sought doesn’t solve their problems, also portrays a dystopia of sorts. Imagined futuristic repressive social systems recur in literature because they explore the extreme possible ramifications of contemporary issues and problems.
“It’s a great way to look at people who are so not us, and yet at the same time are exactly us,” says Attaway. “The journey your brain takes in any sort of dystopian world is the journey from ‘this is crazy’ to ‘oh my gosh, I recognize this.’”