Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Harvard student stages disabled woman's Faustian bargain with technology

The Denver Post profiled Colorado native Charlie Miller, 22, who is now a senior at Harvard University, and just completed an innovative senior thesis that combines his interest in disability and technology.

Titled "username: Faust," it explores a Faustian bargain with the devil from a disabled woman who want to be a YouTube celebrity. On The Post's story about Miller, his YouTube explanation of the performance is included.

Here's Miller's web site description: "username: FAUST tells the story of an isolated woman's attempt to gain popularity by remaking herself as an Internet celebrity. When a demonic tech support team jeopardizes her password-protected existence, she must overcome digital distortions to regain control of her life. This adaptation of the Faust legend will thrill everyone from opera fans to YouTube junkies. The production integrates live theatre and music with video, and features a talented ensemble of performers with a variety of disabilities. The 'usernameFAUST' YouTube channel complements the live performance."

"I'm interested in how technology and disabilities intersect," Miller says in The Denver Post article. "While all of our lives are affected by technology, a person in an electric wheelchair is far more dependent on it. Faust, in effect, sold his soul to technology. Now he's caught between two worlds — spirituality and hell."

In Miller's version, a disabled woman is stuck between worlds. Her bargain with the devil allows her to live inside a YouTube video, where she no longer has a disability. She uses a wheelchair in the physical world, but not in the virtual world. "So she's caught between the disabled and able-bodied worlds," Miller says.

Miller became interested in disability theater through his work with Denver's theater troupe that features actors with a variety of disabilities, PHAMALy. He used his experiences with PHAMALy to inform his project, and he hopes to change American theater for the better in the future with projects like "username: Faust," which includes people with disabilities ranging from blindness to bipolar disorder.

It sounds amazing, and if you are in the Cambridge, Mass., area, it will be playing there at Harvard's New College Theatre Studio April 9-13. For more information about Charlie Miller and his projects, visit his web site, http://www.charlieimiller.com/.