Edward Snowden Play Debuts This Week in Chicago

By Benjamin Woodard on November 13, 2013 8:53am 

 "The People's Republic of Edward Snowden," starring Catherine Povinelli (from l.), Arne Saupe and Nick Haugland, premieres Thursday at Avondale's Prop Thtr, 3502-04 N. Elston Ave.
"The People's Republic of Edward Snowden," starring Catherine Povinelli (from l.), Arne Saupe and Nick Haugland, premieres Thursday at Avondale's Prop Thtr, 3502-04 N. Elston Ave.
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Bill Turck

EDGEWATER — Activist and playwright Bill Turck knew he'd never be able to persuade notorious whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is living in Russia under political asylum, to be a guest on his public access TV show.

"So," he thought, "let's put Edward Snowden on the stage."

After Snowden leaked classified documents to the media that revealed top secret mass surveillance programs in the United States, Turck began writing "The People's Republic of Edward Snowden" alongside co-directors Erik Parsons and Celia Forrest

The play — starring Catherine Povinelli as a Russian government agent, Arne Saupe as a U.S. National Security Agency agent, and Nick Haugland as Snowden — premieres Thursday at Avondale's Prop Thtr. A second showing is scheduled for Friday at the Berger Park Mansion in Edgewater.

On stage, Snowden will address the world during a fictional news conference from Russia's Sheremetyevo International Airport, where the real 30-year-old former NSA contractor was holed up for a month in May as he awaited possible extradition.

Turck promised the one-hour satirical performance would coax laughs — with the help of a goofy NSA agent named Flenkins and a Russian spy who has no problem holding her vodka.

But he also hopes the play makes the audience rethink the tenants of privacy and freedom in the 21st century.

"I hear quite often that you have the right to privacy, but you have no guarantee of privacy," said Turck. "I don't believe you can have one without the other."

Turck said Snowden's revelations challenge Americans to decide whether they take freedom for granted.

Co-director Celia Forrest said the performance would "put a human face" on Snowden, who for most people remains caught in the abstract.

The play, she said, also pokes fun at some of the more absurd elements of the Snowden story, like how the sequel of the Jason Bourne spy thriller films featured the same airport terminal where Snowden was stranded.

"That's fairly ridiculous," she said.

The performance also will feature an "Ask Snowden" segment, inspired by The Guardian newspaper's attempt to host a question-and-answer session with Snowden over Twitter in June.

The session elicited such tweets as, "#AskSnowden How are you able to keep the goatee AND remain in a relationship with a woman? Asking for men everywhere."

"I think people are still using the hashtag," said Forrest, "which makes me giggle."

Over a craft beer at R Public House Tuesday, Turck cited a line from NSA agent Flenkins' that he said offers an idea of what audience members can expect.

"[Flenkins is] trying to illustrate this for the people," said Turck, "in which he says, 'Listen, sooner or later some 12-year-old is going to come along and render everything we do at the NSA completely obsolete, and he's going to do it from the back of his mom's Volvo on the way to soccer practice. Our job at the NSA is to stay one step ahead of that 12-year-old. The 12-year-old only has to be right once; we have to be right every time.' "

Said Turck, "It just adds this absurd reality to this whole topic because ultimately that's what it gets to — just this absurdity of paranoia and spycraft."

"The People's Republic of Edward Snowden" premieres 8 p.m. Thursday at Avondale's Prop Thtr, 3502-04 N. Elston Ave. A second showing is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Berger Park Mansion, 6205 N. Sheridan Rd. Buy tickets here.

Bill Turck also wrote popular play "Occupy My Heart, A Revolutionary Christmas Carol," which debuted in 2011.

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