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Surveillance, Privacy Debate Gets Spotlight in Next Act's Season Opener

Next Act Theatre.

It turns out that the debate between governmental surveillance and individual privacy isn't just dominating our political system and news coverage lately; now it's making its way into theater.

The local chapter of the ACLU is partnering with Next Act Theatre to explore these issues on stage. Their season opener is a play whose subject could be ripped from the headlines: whistle blowing, integrity, privacy, and the choices we make. Perfect Mendacity, by Chicago-born playwright Jason Wells, opens tonight.

Wells was inspired to write the play when considering whether a method actor could beat a polygraph test, but it soon expanded into something deeper.

"How do we lie to ourselves and what are the consequences of that, personally, relationship-wise, or a country lying to itself?" asks Next Act’s Producing Artistic Director David Cecsarini.

ACLU Milwaukee Chapter’s Development Director Kristin Hansen says the play brings up many topical issues that audience members are likely concerned about.

"Some people are scared of the thought that the NSA is surveilling us, that license plate trackers are tracking us, that there's a data fusion center that is collecting all of this data and coordinating it," she says.

Cecsarini says the play also reaches out to audience members of a different opinion.

"There are also people who are scared that this needs to be the status quo, that we need surveillance, because, look, the last ten years we have not had another serious terrorist attack in the United States," he says. "So this play also opens the door for them to come in and discuss and share their opinions about what all these issues mean to all of us as a nation."

Both acknowledge that the conflict between national security and protecting personal privacy can get  pretty heady, but say the arts have always allowed people to address complex issues.

"It's kind of so far out there that it's hard to grasp, so a play like this lets you think about it in a different way, absorb it in a different and then have that public dialog," Hansen says.

Even if that dialog can get intense, with strong feelings on both sides, Cecsarini says the theatre won't be shying away from controversial issues this season.

"The driving force behind what we chose to put on stage at Next Act is that very desire to just simply get issues on the table and have discussion," he says.

A community panel on national security and privacy issues will be held on October 6th. The ACLU will also be providing information in the lobby during performances. Perfect Mendacity runs through mid-October.

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.