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For many years Welt am Draht, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1973 three-and-a-half hour, made-for-TV science fiction opus was one of the late German directors’ most underscreened films. Dazzlingly stylish, and with narrative and thematic concerns anticipating the cyberpunk themes that would take root in science fiction more than a decade later, the film was only shown in America once in 1997 — that is, before it was restored and received a short run at MoMA in 2010. Fassbinder was quoted in MoMA’s catalogue as saying the film, translated as World on a Wire, is “a very beautiful story that depicts a world where one is able to make projections of people using a computer. And, of course, this leads to the uncertainty of whether someone himself is a projection, since in the virtual world projections resemble reality. Perhaps another, larger world has made us as a virtual one? In this sense it deals with the old philosophical model, which here takes on a certain horror.”

One artist who was struck by Fassbinder’s melodramatic, corporate cybernoir was theater director Jay Scheib, a professor of music and theater arts at MIT. He became fascinated with the text in 2007, and has now mounted a new production — translated as World of Wires — at The Kitchen, where it runs until January 21. As an interview at the Bomblog by Alex Zafiris explains, World of Wires is the third part of a theater trilogy whose other parts were inspired by some of the science-fiction writers of the 1960s:

World of Wires is the third part of a trilogy, Simulated Cities/Simulated Systems. First was 2008’s Untitled Mars (This Title May Change), based on real-life space simulator pods inhabited by hopeful Mars visitors, together with the ideas of Philip K. Dick, Stanislaw Lem and Kurd Lasewitz; then last year’s Bellona, Destroyer of Cities, an adaptation of Samuel R. Delany’s overwhelming science-fiction novel, Dhalgren. All three were developed during Scheib’s current residency as Professor for Music and Theater Arts at MIT, where, in contact with a world completely different from that of his own, his perception of realities, and ways in which to think about them, was stretched. The plays are captivating. Fear, delirium, humor, sex, love and hate are magnified, like dream states. Meaning and context shift, and truth runs amok. Conflict thrashes itself out within this battleground, pushing and shoving between balance and tension. Throughout all of it, humanity persists. Cameras are positioned on stage to project live video, bringing more perspective to the set and ultimately, towards the final argument. For this new production, Scheib will be on stage, as director, with a handheld camera, capturing the action, even giving direction.

Below is a short video interview I did with Scheib at his rehearsal space, a clip from the production, and the trailer for Fassbinder’s film. For tickets, visit The Kitchen online.

Jon Morris and Mikeah Ernest Jennings in Jay Scheib’s World of Wires from Jay Scheib on Vimeo.

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