Network: A Human Story
January 10, 2023
This Winter, FST presents the Regional Premiere of Network, a thrilling dramatic retelling of the 1976 Academy Award-winning film by Paddy Chayefsky. Adapted by Lee Hall, Network follows Howard Beale, a veteran anchorman who is fired for not bringing in enough viewers. Furious that he is being let go after 25 years with the network, Howard has a mental breakdown live on air during his final broadcast…and the ratings soar. Soon, Howard becomes the biggest thing on TV.
"It’s a film that’s quite iconic,” said Lee Hall, who adapted the critically-acclaimed screenplay into a two-hour pressure cooker play for the stage, in an interview with Broadway.com. “I always thought it was a really theatrical film, and that it would be a fantastic thing to do onstage.”
Network was first produced at London’s National Theatre and was a hit. The production’s five-month run sold out and critics called the play “A total triumph” (The Guardian) and “Electrifying” (TimeOut London). The production then moved to Broadway’s Belasco Theatre, where it ran for six months, racking up numerous Drama League, Tony, and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations.
“I’m very excited to be taking on the challenge of this profound play,” said Richard Hopkins, the show’s director. “On Broadway, they basically made a movie onstage.”
The Broadway production featured a 23-person cast and used a mix of pre-recorded footage and live film to plunge the audience into the electric atmosphere of a television newsroom. Two crew members with handheld TV studio cameras traveled around the stage, capturing the incidental moments between the characters that otherwise might not have been seen. This all helped create the impression that audiences were seeing a live movie.
FST’s production of Network will also utilize projections and different types of video footage, but its primary focus will be that of Howard Beale's emotional journey.
“In our production, we’re going to highlight the humanity of the play,” added Hopkins. “It’s somewhat similar to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, where many other theatres leaned into the high-tech elements and possibilities of the show. But in our production of Curious Incident, we leaned into the story and humanity of the play. That will be our focus with Network as well because that is the heart of the work and what is ultimately most important.”
Network also addresses how Howard’s colleagues view and react to his journey into madness. When Max Schumacher, the Head of News at the station where Beale works, sees his friend lose it on live television, he sees Howard as vulnerable and in need of help. Alternatively, TV executives driven by profits and ratings see Howard and his newfound popularity as the key to success.
“There are two ideas clashing—an old, rather humanistic idea about the endeavor of TV and this other one, which sees it as big business,” said Lee Hall, in an interview with The Financial Times. “And that clash, told through the emotional lives of people, seems very accurate about how we live.”
The actor tasked with playing Howard Beale is Sheffield Chastain, who was most recently seen in last season’s World Premiere of America in One Room. Network is Sheffield’s ninth show at FST and he is sure to bring a fresh and original portrayal of the crumbling anchorman.
“I have never seen the film,” said Sheffield, “But I’m pretty excited to say the famous line, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!'"