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Articulation, Animation, Alienation: Intermedial Affect in Ivo van Hove’s Network

This article considers the perceptual and affective potential of intermedial stage-to-screen adaptations—by which I mean theatrical adaptations of films which include video and projection. Such productions are doubly denigrated: any use of audiovisual media on the stage is often regarded with suspicion and seen as a cheap spectacular effect that distracts the spectator and adulterates theater’s purity as a performing art. Likewise, theatrical versions of films are often dismissed as unartistic ploys for “economic survival,” hoping to attract audiences with the comfort of a known commodity (Hitchman 173). These productions are, as Victoria Lowe notes, frequently seen as “parasitic, opportunistic and safe, relying only on satisfying the audience’s desire for material that is familiar but produced in a different way” (40).

Following Lowe’s countering claim that “there are creative and not just commercial reasons why theater might choose to engage with the film canon,” I argue that the choice to adapt films intermedially (with video and projection) aids what Hitchman identifies as the tendency of screen-to-stage adaptations to adapt not only the content of a particular film, but the medium of cinema itself. Lowe suggests that creative reasons for screen-to-stage adaptation include a desire to explore and interrogate the norms of both cinematic and theatrical spectatorship. Such interrogations can be intensified through the aesthetics of intermedial theater. (My understanding of “intermedial” theater relies on Greg Giesekam’s definition of it as a theater with “extensive interaction” between performers and media, interactions which “substantially modif[y] how the respective media collectively function and invite…reflection upon their nature and methods”) (Giesekam introduction). However, intermedial screen-to-stage adaptations take these interrogations one step further, by considering how these norms of cinematic and theatrical spectatorship interact with other contemporary forms of media. Intermedial screen-to-stage productions are thus adaptations as modernizations, using varied interactions between screens and performers to emphasize the relevance of works of classic cinema in our current landscape of networked media.

This article enumerates the possibilities of intermedial adaptation by examining the play Network, directed by Ivo van Hove.1  Network, (produced at the National Theater from 2017-2018 and then on Broadway from 2018-2019), is based on Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay for the 1976 film of the same name.2 (Lee Hall adapted Chayefsky’s screenplay for the stage version.) It is an adaptation of a remediation: a staged version of a film about television. This allows the play both to both depict and comment on media in complex ways and makes it a particularly rich text for a study of intermedial theater and its utility of a mode of adaptation. Van Hove, working in close collaboration with video designer Tal Yarden (along with scenographer Jan Versweyveld), is one of the most high-profile practitioners of intermedial theater, and a well-known adaptor of works of art cinema. With their intermedial adaptations, van Hove, Yarden, and Versweyveld produce particularly rich examinations of various modes of spectatorship and their intellectual and emotional effects. These modes of spectatorship include the televisual (which mimics the format of television news), the cinematic (which uses the glamour and spectacle of big screens, as well as an approximation of the style of continuity editing), and the theatrical (which involves deploying live feeds and footage in ways that Philip Auslander argues have long been used to “mediatize” performances.)

Intermediality as Articulation and Animation

Network’s chillingly prescient satire about the exploitative degradation of TV news explicitly concerns media’s affective impact on its spectators. It is the story of Howard Beale (portrayed, in van Hove’s play, by TV star Bryan Cranston), a dyed-in-the wool news anchor in the Walter Cronkite mold. Beale is fired by his network due to low ratings. He then threatens to kill himself on the air, and delivers some tirades about the “bullshit” of contemporary life: a recession, high crime rates, political corruption, and social isolation. Beale’s ratings spike, and the enterprising executive Diana Christensen (played by Michelle Dockery at the National Theater, and then Tatiana Maslany on Broadway) sees the potential of Beale’s new “angry man” persona. She reformats Beale’s program into something more like contemporary cable news shows, with Beale as an angry pundit delivering heated diatribes. When his populist rants threaten the business interests of the international conglomerate that owns the network, the mentally ill Beale is converted to a new ideology by its chairman. He accepts the ultimate insignificance of both the individual and of any specific medium (like television) in the new era of the global(ist) network. Beale’s new material depresses viewers, and when his ratings tank, Christiansen arranges for him to be assassinated on air by a fringe revolutionary group.

Network is ultimately a story about how media activates and circulates affect. Beale’s monologues manifest a diffuse, inchoate anger that already exists out in the world. Christiansen realizes that Beale’s ratings have soared because the public is looking for someone to “articulate their rage.” Beale is a compelling television personality because he makes the medium feel transparent, channeling this rage for his audience. This is illustrated in the film’s most famous scene, when Beale shouts the line, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”, and the TV audience does the same, yelling the line out of their windows in cities across America. Picking up on the screenplay’s suggestion that media can be vehicles for articulating rage, van Hove’s Network uses different relationships between stage and screen(s) as processes for articulating affect. Here, I use articulation not just to mean “giving voice to,” but also the performance of jointedness—the activation of the connected elements of a whole. (“Articulation”) Van Hove, Yarden, and Versweyveld direct the spectator’s eye from stage to screen (and vice versa) in articulated trajectories that animate affect. Encouraging different interactions between stage and screens, Network activates intermedial relationships that reflect what Sianne Ngai calls animation’s existence in between the organic and the mechanical. They make the audience’s position ambiguous: both savvy to the piece’s excoriation of the news media, and also susceptible to media’s affective thrall. It thus updates Network the film’s concerns about responses to media, interrogating the network of old and new media that demands the attention of the contemporary spectator.

Stage and Screens: Network’s Mediascape

Network’s uses of video and projection construct a complex mediascape, one that allows for many different stage-screen relationships (see Figure 1). Versweyveld’s set features a variety of screens, which perform a variety of different functions. Upstage at stage right, small television screens are stacked in lines and rows. These screens function scenographically—that is, they help establish the setting of a television studio. At the same time, the images on these screens are intermedial, as they comment on the text proper. For example, one TV screen plays a commercial for nylon stockings. Its scenario is a bank heist committed by a gang of leggy female robbers. Beale’s first news broadcast then opens with the story of the capture of Patty Hearst, a beautiful heiress who was kidnapped by a terrorist group and was later charged with assisting them with a bank robbery. This context makes the presence of the commercial complex. Yarden noted that his use of 70s commercials on these TV screens aimed to constantly connect news and commerce (a poisonous marriage that will corrupt journalism and lead to the story’s ludicrous yet tragic conclusion) (Yarden). The tie between the stocking commercial and the biggest news story of the day draws the audience into a rich diegesis while also inviting the audience to critically contemplate the cheekily manipulative uses of television advertising.

At the center of Network’s stage sits one large screen, which projects different types of footage throughout the play. This screen often functions televisually: that is to say, it presents Beale’s newscasts as if the audience were watching them on a television set. (These projections are head-and-shoulders shots of Beale seated at his news desk.) At other times, the screen shows images of performers on or off the stage, captured by camera operators. In the instances where camera operators follow characters around the stage, the screen performs mediatized liveness, following Auslander’s understanding of mediatization as the insertion or addition of another medium into a live performance. (They are similar to the “mediatization” of a big screen to project close-ups at a live sporting event or a rock concert) (Auslander 25). When the camera follows performers into the wings or off stage—as when the producer and Christiansen walk outside and have a conversation on the street in front of the theater— the screen also functions cinematically. I say this because the camera is exhibiting the very traits through which film theory, dating back to Hugo Munsterberg, has used to define cinema against the theater— taking the spectator off the stage into the larger world to break the spectator’s eye out of the spatiotemporal containment of the proscenium view. Furthermore, the street scene is citationally cinematic because the look and setting of this footage so specifically references the depiction of this same scene in Network the film. The big screen also performs cinematic functions when action and dialogue move back and forth from the close-up view of the screen to the “wide shot” of the stage. This is an intermedial adaptation of the continuity editing that is the essence of mainstream cinema (like Network), and which André Gaudeault has identified as one of the defining features of cinema as a medium. This “intermedial editing” is often also citational, in that the movement between stage and screen mimics alternations between wide and close shots that occur in Network the film. In addition to the television sets and the central screen, Network’s set also includes three screens wrapped around the sides of the stage. These wraparound screens also mimic the aesthetic effects of different media. They produce a particularly cinematic effect when depicting funeral of Edward Ruddy, the network’s Chairman of the Board, and the last of the old guard of serious journalism. Mourners are filmed in a lyrically cinematic black and white. They paint a glamorous picture, holding up umbrellas while a soft rain falls on them. The larger-than-life imagery makes this symbolic death cinematic, its eerie otherworldly character makes it seem very remote from the world of television production that goes on below. I will discuss other uses of this wraparound screen in my analysis below.

The complex array of screened images in Network’s mediascape forge many different connections between the performers, the scenic design, and these multiple screens. In drawing the spectator’s gaze along trajectories between stage, screens, and back again, Network performs trajectories of articulation—the motions of a “jointed structure” (“Articulation”). By emphasizing the “joints” between stage and screens, the play prompts the eye to move in certain ways that suggest certain spectatorial responses. These intermedial articulations make the audience feel, but they also heighten one’s awareness of how such feelings are produced. They use the tools of intermedial theater to update the film’s questions of the media’s manipulation of affect for the contemporary moment.

Articulation, Animation, Alienation: Intermedial Affect in Ivo van Hove’s Network, Julia Sirmons, Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 1: The full array of screens of Network’s mediascape. Photo courtesy of Tal Yarden.

“Mad as Hell”: Articulation and Mediatized Liveness

Network’s trajectories of intermedial articulation are demonstrated most powerfully in its rendition of the iconic “mad as hell” scene from Network the film. After the executives decide to keep the unstable but compelling Beale on the air, he goes off-script and delivers an angry diatribe about the state of the world. He encourages his audience to “get mad.” As Beale’s monologue gets more heated, he rises from his seat behind the news desk, and stares into the camera, addressing his audience directly. He urges them to get up and yell that famous line—"I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”—out their windows.

In the film, the last part of Howard’s monologue is edited together with shots of incredulous producers and executives, followed by shots of viewers answering Beale’s plea and yelling the line out of their windows. In van Hove’s play, this scene (which is explicitly about the transmission of affect via television) involves presentations and representations on multiple screens. At the beginning of Beale’s monologue, he is seated at his news desk. He goes off-script, but Cranston’s delivery remains relatively staid. The screen at center stage presents Howard in “televisual” mode, captured in a medium shot behind the news desk. (The screen actually provides a clearer view of Beale than what the audience could see looking only at the stage, because is seated in three-quarter profile behind the news desk, looking away from the audience and at the cameras situated at the center of the stage, below the big screen) (see Figure 2). Thus, the screen initially transmits a greater sense of immediacy than the live “presence” of Beale/Cranston’s body on the stage. As Beale’s monologue gets more heated, he comes out from behind the desk, and walks toward the camera until he is looking directly into it (see Figure 3). The large screen at center stage now shows footage from a camera operator on stage, who follows Howard as he wanders around, getting increasingly angry and desperate. The camera operator continues to follow him away from the TV station set and to the edge of the stage as he finishes the monologue.

Articulation, Animation, Alienation: Intermedial Affect in Ivo van Hove’s Network, Julia Sirmons, Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 2: The "televisual' mode of Howard's normal news broadcast. Photo courtesy of Tal Yarden.
Articulation, Animation, Alienation: Intermedial Affect in Ivo van Hove’s Network, Julia Sirmons, Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 3: Camera operator tracks Beale as he rises to begin the "mad as hell" monologue. Photo courtesy of Tal Yarden.

Following this, the play represents the masses’ spontaneous response to Beale’s affective plea in a new form—an updated departure from the film. Instead of seeing the incarnate response of TV viewers yelling from their windows, their response is transmitted via media. On the wraparound screens at the back of the stage, there are projected videos of a variety of people yelling Beale’s “mad as hell” catchphrase. These videos have small rectangular frames, which make them look like they have been recorded or are streaming on phones. This suggests that Beale’s monologue has gone viral and “mad as hell” videos are proliferating on social media.

Van Hove and Yarden’s take on this famous scene illustrates how an articulation of the elements of intermedial performance can both depict and engineer affect, thus inciting animation. The on-stage activity (principally Beale’s monologue, and its transition from anger to pained melancholy) is magnified and intensified on the center screen, and this affective magnification in turn seems to travel to the wraparound screens, where the “phone” footage depicts animated and animating responses to Beale’s mediated, mediatized presence. Ngai defines “animatedness” as a kind of “exaggerated emotional expressiveness” (94). It exists “between the organic-vitalistic and the technological-mechanical, and between the technological-mechanical and the emotional” (95). In the “mad as hell” scene, we see how animatedness mounts and travels through intermedial pathways of “in-between-ness.” At the beginning of the scene, where the central screen shows him as a conventional news anchor, Beale’s rant begins to animate the other characters on the stage, who are panicking and as they debate if they should take him off the air. The spectator’s attention is continually drawn along pathways between stage and screen. Here, as Hitchman suggests, the play is in some sense adapting Network’s cinematic medium, as the audience’s gazes move back and forth between the stage and screen mimics the cross-cutting of this scene in the original film. The spectator sees the scene both organically and technologically. As live theatrical spectators with eyes that are encouraged to “edit,” they alternate between seeing the scene dramatically (focusing on the more traditionally “theatrical” corporeal presences on the stage) televisually, (focusing on the central screen that mimics the look of a news broadcast, and cinematically as they “edit” by moving between looking at the stage and at the screen. Dwelling in the “in-between-ness” of these multiple modes of spectatorship enables a mounting animatedness in the spectator. New articulations of intermedial spectatorship open up new affective pathways, as Beale himself gets more “animated,” and aims to transmit his anger.

The view on the central screen changes as the camera operator follows Beale to the front of the stage, where he reaches the crescendo of his monologue, then ends in a mood more desperate than angry. The close-up of Beale on the center screen now adopts a mode of mediatized liveness. The screen makes the “animatedness” of Cranston’s performance more visceral. The camera captures the nuances and expressions of a bravura performance that produces that much-prized “presence”—a strong affective connection between actor and audience in live performance, which theater valorizes as its defining characteristic. If, as Ngai argues, animation is “betrayed by involuntary movements of the body,” the point of capturing Beale in this “mediatized theatrical” mode is to give us proximity to access those kinds of movements (Cranston-as-Beale’s tics, facial expressions, the pauses and permutations of an emotional arc) in a moment of great live drama (96). The spectator’s experience of this theatrical “presence,” is, however, intensely mediatized. The effect of intense theatrical presence is “animated” through technological artistry, via the sophisticated use of cameras and live footage. Yarden explains his process:

I often use a technique of having a live camera on a screen in view of the camera which creates a feedback loop. This means that because of the very slight delay of video frames on screen this causes a repetition of multiple increasingly delayed frames. (Yarden)

This repetition of images mediatizes liveness through the jointedness of repeating images reverberating from actor to screen. Yarden describes the effect as “amplifying” Cranston’s “presence and performance;” a paradoxical intensification of pure presence through mediatization (Yarden). I would further argue that it amplifies the animatedness of the performance, connecting the organic and the mechanical in a way of sending a pulsating arc of affect along a jointed trajectory. The feedback makes the smallest organic movements and affective idiosyncrasies reverberate visually and mechanically. The feedback loop created by the cameras places the audience in its own intermedial feedback loop, where the eye’s movement between the live performer and the screen makes the audience experience media’s magnification and channeling of affect in a way that serves the plot of Network the film, while remaining a very theatrical experience of affective embodiment.

In the final joint of this articulation, Howard’s “animatedness” travels and spreads to the “phone videos” proliferating on the screens at the back of the stage. It is a trajectory that is affectively powerful, but also ambiguous for the spectator. Here the theatrical audience meets another audience. While they are “live” and “in the house,” they looking at the representation of an audience that is mediated. This second audience (portrayed by prerecorded videos) is ostensibly watching Beale on television, and then articulating its own animated response to Beale through a second medium (the smart phone.) As a theatrical moment, the affective impact of this “second audience” is very powerful. Yet though the theatrical spectator is drawn in by this projected animatedness, the impact also emphasizes their unstable position. Should this traveling anger also animate the theatrical spectator? Because of our (mediatized) connection with Beale, we are more aware of the reality of his depression and delusions than this second (mediated) audience seems to be. Thus, the affective transfer to the phone videos is uncomfortable: the animatedness of these videos also illustrate media’s power to distort and exploit Beale’s troubled affect. The footage is, after a while, also alienating (as online social media videos can often be) as they confront the spectator with the animatedness of angry others proliferating, and growing louder and stronger. Lowe notes that the use of screens on the stage can set up a dichotomy between “objective” and “subjective” views (53-54). The multiple articulations between stage and screens in Network complicate this proposition. The sense of organic-technological “in-between-ness” they create constantly confuse the spectator’s sense of herself as either an objective and subjective viewer. Ngai writes that animatedness can confuse our understanding of the boundary “between subjective and objective reality” (20).  Network’s enticements to animation, by drawing the audience in different intermedial trajectories, performs this destabilization. It confuses the spectator’s position within the diegesis, and consequently their role as consumers of: 1) a story about a man’s emotional breakdown, 2) an adaptation of a story about media, 3) a piece of intermedial theater, and 4) of contemporary mass media. This destabilization—and the audience’s unstable positions as subjective and objective spectators—will be central to the intermedial experience of the rest of the play, as well as the audience’s sense of Network’s contemporary resonances.

Intermedial Animatedness: Objective and Subjective Spectatorship

This phenomenon of unstable, ambiguous spectatorship comes to fore in the play’s representation of the revamped Howard Beale Show: a Fox News-esque program which is mainly a forum for Howard to air his resentments. The scenes depicting this new show constitute a complete rearticulation of Network’s mediascape. Any distance between the fictional television viewer and the actual theatrical spectator collapses. The play becomes more like immersive theater, where the audience is enveloped within its diegesis. They are “cast” in the role of the television audience. As Beale’s show begins, all the screens project a blank red background. A hype man comes on stage to warm up the audience. He encourages them to applaud, as the word “APPLAUSE” flashes on the screens. He also asks the crowd to yell Beale’s “mad as hell” catch phrase. At the Broadway performances, if the audience was quiet or sluggish in their responses, the hype man tried to animate them by joking about the contemporary state of the New York City subways, a Beale-esque complaint about the decaying state of the world that got a lively response.

This representation of a television broadcast also uses Network’s mediascape to produce an affective “in-between-ness” in its audience. It both solicits the audience’s affect while also prompting them to distance themselves from this affect that they are prompted to produce and participate in. By casting the theatrical audience as a television audience, Network encourages a spectatorial mode of what Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin call immediacy: a state where “the medium itself should disappear and leave us in the presence of the thing represented” (6) (Such immediacy is, after all, the key to Beale’s success as a TV personality). Yet the audience’s experience of immediacy, which calls them to amplify Beale’s affect, is tempered by the content of the play itself, which has already warned the audiences that television spectators are all too easily manipulated. This problem crystallizes when Beale takes the stage and begins his monologue. As he rails against the impending sale of the network, some of Beale’s words flash on the red screens. (For example, the word “SAUDIS” flashes when Beale warns against the prospect of a foreign conglomerate acquiring the network.) Where the initial “APPLAUSE” projections were part of a realist representation of a TV studio, the “SAUDIS” projection starts to function like a Brechtian placard, distancing us from Beale’s animated affect and urging us to reflect on the unsavory political implications of his populist rhetoric. They are fulfilling what Giesekam calls intermedial theater’s raison d’être: to intervene in, comment on, and critique mass media.

Network’s mediascape becomes even more complex in its second depiction of the Howard Beale Show, which occurs after Beale is converted to his CEO’s globalist ideology. Here the show breaks format, and re-articulates the relationship between performer, stage and screen. As Beale continues speaking, he descends into the auditorium and starts interacting with the audience. The camera follows him, projecting his image on the center screen. With a creepily passive, blissed-out mien, he crawls and squeezes between the chairs in the theater’s front rows, delivering the lines of his cryptic monologue directly to individual audience members. “Democracy is a dying giant,” he explains beatifically. “It’s the individual that’s finished.” “Is dehumanization such a bad word?” The audience is now split into two different groups. The select few that are seated in these front rows may experience a direct affective contact with a (very famous) actor. Yet they must experience a certain degree of alienation, as that actor has broken the fourth wall and entered the auditorium. This feeling is intensified as Cranston distances himself from the Beale character, winking at the impenetrability of his monologue. “Do you understand?” he asks the spectators that he’s squished between, teasing them a bit as he looks them straight in the eyes. “It seems like you don’t understand.” The vast majority of the audience (in the cheaper seats) are now watching this part of the audience (from which it might feel both connected and divided) on screen. They are incorporated into the play’s mediascape, into the scene. They are experiencing a mediatized liveness, as when the camera followed Beale during his “mad as hell” monologue. Yet the affective charge of this unexpected development may also curdle into alienation, as the rest of the audience could feel cynically distanced from the befuddled or overexcited spectators who unexpectedly find themselves interacting with TV star Bryan Cranston. The distance encourages a self-satisfied feeling of savviness amongst the rest of the audience; we haven’t been “taken in” (in this case, literally taken into the screen) by the show’s need to “cast” us as an easily manipulated television audience. At this moment, a spectator may, in my experience, now feel themselves as a point of friction, the obstruction that holds up the flow and exchange of affect between stage and auditorium. But if this mode of spectatorship makes the majority of the audience feel safely ensconced in a satirical distance, Network’s intermedial articulations will continue to unsettle them until the play’s conclusion.

Signing Off: Intermedial Theatricality

Any spectator’s sense of savvy is disturbed by the shock of Network’s final scene, where Christiansen has Beale murdered on television to boost ratings. When he is shot and falls to the ground, Beale’s colleagues surround him in a circle, bending over and crying for help. While this is happening, jumpy, verité-style footage appears on the center screen: the camera shakes as we see Howard at different scales and from different angles: a close-up of blood spilling out of his mouth, a medium shot as a pool of blood spills out across his shirt, glimpses of the heads and faces of his colleagues as they bob in and out of the frame while trying to stanch his bleeding. This striking, kinetic footage of a dramatic moment exhibits what Tom Gunning calls the moving image’s essence as animation: “a control of the presentation of images at specific thresholds of speed so as to affect their visual perception” (3). The scene’s animation mounts as Beale’s colleagues spread a gold blanket (like a foil emergency blanket) over him. Finally, the camera switches to an overhead shot that zooms out as Howard finally dies, a knowing, mournful smile on his face. This shot evokes the final shot of the TV series Breaking Bad, depicting the death of Walter White, the character that made Cranston a star, and who is another icon of aggrieved white masculinity.

These animated and animating media images—televisual in their shaky, verité coverage of a sudden horrific event, then cinematic in the dark beauty and unique point of view of the stunning overhead shot—exploit their controlled presentation to allow van Hove and Yarden to pull off a truly stunning coup-de-théâtre. All of a sudden, Howard Beale stands, alive and unbloodied, at the edge of the stage. (This effect is achieved by substitution: while the cast was grouped in a huddle, another man took the place of Cranston under the blanket. Cranston rose and backed out of the huddle unnoticed, as the audience members were more likely attending to the prerecorded and edited footage on the screen.) Once Beale is thus revived, Cranston slips out of the Beale character. He recites the lines that, in Network the film, are read by a disembodied narrator (voiced by Lee Richardson.) “This was the story of Howard Beale,” he says, “the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.”

After this, Cranston delivers an impassioned monologue about the importance of direct human connection and having faith in one another. It’s an unusual conclusion, given the text’s ongoing pessimism about the possibility of genuine, unmediated exchange of affect in an age of mass media. The monologue is, in comparison with the rest of the play, relatively unmediatized. The spectator’s attention moves away from screens and is focused fully on Beale at the actor at the edge of the stage. The monologue ends with a bit of a twist, when Cranston winkingly sinks back into the Beale character, reassuming a gravelly newscaster’s voice as he utters a final line: “This is Howard Beale, signing off.”

In this trajectory from Network’s climax to its dénouement, the articulation between modes of spectatorship (from televisual to cinematic footage, and from engagement with the screen to a very direct connection to the stage) draws a clear connection between intermedial forms of manipulation and more conventional types of theatrical trickery. Josette Féral describes theatricality as a series of “cleavages (inscribed by the artist and recognized by the spectator). (“Foreword” 10) These cleavages “impose upon a spectator’s gaze a play of disjunction/unification, a friction between one level and another” (“Foreword” 12). As the spectator moves her eyes from Beale’s (prerecorded) screen body to Cranston’s stage body (seemingly now detached from the Beale character), she also moves from the gripping “here” of Howard’s shocking death (and the impression of “hereness” conveyed by the verité footage, which occurs in the ephemeral “elsewhere” of the screen), to the displaced and unplaceable “elsewhere” of Cranston’s monologue (which also is taking place in the “here” produced by Cranston’s physical presence on the stage.) Féral argues that theatricality endows the spectator a “double-edged gaze” (“Theatricality” 100). Network’s conclusion multiplies and continually shifts the conditions of that doubled spectatorship, in such a way that he use of spectacular screens and images help take us back to the seductive, animating trickery that is fundamental to theatricality.


Network’s conclusion emphasizes a certain contradiction at the heart of its project. Network the film is plainly pessimistic about media’s manipulative powers and its alienating effect on human relationships. Van Hove and Yarden, seasoned practitioners of intermedial theater, do not share a parallel belief that the seductive, distracting power of the screened image necessary diminishes the unmediated human connection that is the singular power of theatrical “co-presence.” Similarly, the project of making Network relevant for a contemporary audience means thinking of the effects of media as something broader and more diffuse than just network television. Media networks are so imbricated in our lives in so many different permutations, that our sensitivities to its lures and affective powers must be more nuanced and more sophisticated.

If as van Hove has argued, “the boundary between theater and other media is growing thinner all the time,” then it would be a mistake to adapt the morality play of Network the film by drawing firm boundaries or dichotomies between on-stage activity and screened images as “good” and “bad” objects within the play (qtd. in Willinger 76). By addressing an audience through cinematic, televisual, online and theatrical modes, and guiding the spectator’s eye betwixt and between them, Network performs an intermedial animation wherein the “human sensorium is transformed (activated)” by a “controlled process of perception” (Gunning 4). Gunning, following Gilbert Simondon, sees the concept of animation as a way of “reducing alienation” between the human and technology, of “showing that technical objects are not the Other of the human, but themselves contain something of the human” (8). Using its intermedial articulations both to animate and to alienate, van Hove’s Network manifests the ambiguity of our relationship to technology. At the heart of Network the play lies a paradox: it is a production that uses intermedial aesthetics to affirm human connection, while also representing the alienating effects of mass media. Encouraging doubled modes of affective intermedial spectatorship, Network reflects its own in-betweennesses, not just as an intermedial viewing experience, but also as a star-driven Broadway production and an auteurist creation from an acclaimed international director and his long-term collaborators.

Network as a piece of intermedial theater, and as an adaptation that is also a commentary on media itself, suggests some further directions for studies of screen-to-stage adaptations. Picking up on Hitchman’s valuable assertion that such adaptations might adapt the medium of cinema in addition to its subject(s), van Hove and Yarden’s work suggest ways of more thoroughly understanding how such adaptations confront and respond to the “heteromediality” of both cinema and theater. Both film and theater have often been described as “mixed” media that incorporate and connect other art forms. The many permutations of screen-stage relationships in a piece like Network, suggest that we consider how cinema can be adapted—not as a monolithic set of aesthetic characteristics, but rather as a constellation of stylistic features held together in different relationships when different films are adapted with the use of different media on the stage. Equally important, however, are the insights that adaptation studies can bring to analyses of intermedial theater. Insightful work on the methods of adaptation can, as I have endeavored to do here, clarify the various “inters” of intermedia. Theories of adaptation can help explain the different ways elements of a production interact with each other, and illuminate the effects these relationships produce. Combining both bodies of literature to considering the particularities of intermedial adaptation encourages us to see the adaptive process as not just one of transformation, but also of combination, and one based not only in acknowledging the differences between each medium, but also their similarities.


1 I use the term “intermedial” to describe Network, as opposed to Giesekam’s intermedia, to indicate the presence of both multimedia and intermedia elements, and important interactions between the two.

2 Van Hove maintains that his plays derived from films are not adaptations of the films, but stagings of their screenplays. Nevertheless, I argue that certain cinematic rhythms, patterns and images sometimes surface and shape these works.

Works Cited

“Articulation.” Oxford English Dictionary, 2021, https://www-oed-com.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/view/Entry/11196?redirectedFrom=articulation#eid. Accessed 2 July 2021.

Auslander, Philip. Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2008.

Féral, Josette. “Foreword.” SubStance, Vol. 31, no. 2/3, 2002, pp. 3-13.

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