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A Real Character: Media Studies Professor Portrayed on the New York Stage

Published July 27, 2016 in News

By: Katie McNally | University Communications

Siva Vaidhyanathan is no stranger to the spotlight. The director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship and Robertson Professor of Media Studies regularly shares his commentary on privacy and communications in the news, and has even had a cameo on “The Daily Show,” but watching an actor portray him on a New York stage this summer was a first.

“It was by far the weirdest moment of my scholarly career,” Vaidhyanathan said. “It was also flattering beyond belief.”

Vaidhyanathan saw the on-stage version of himself at a preview of “Privacy,” a new off-Broadway production at the Public Theater in New York City. The play explores the meaning of privacy and identity in the digital age through the eyes of a young protagonist known only as “the Writer.” Played by Daniel Radcliffe of “Harry Potter” fame, he is a lonely man in a new city trying to figure out how to connect and share parts of his life without giving too much personal information away. 

The show’s playwright, James Graham, first contacted Vaidhyanathan in October while conducting research for the script. A version of the play ran in London in 2014, but Graham and director Josie Rourke were adapting it for American audiences. 

“When we spoke, I thought it was just research. I knew he was talking to a few scholars in the U.S., but I didn’t think it would go any farther than that,” Vaidhyanathan said. “I thought I might get a nice invitation to see it when it debuted, but I had no idea what was actually going to happen with my contribution.” 

Vaidhyanathan and Graham discussed his 2011 book “The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry)” and different strategies for communicating the complex issues surrounding privacy.

“Then about four months ago, I got a Facebook message from an actor friend telling me that he had just auditioned to play me in a play off Broadway,” Vaidhyanathan said. “That’s how I found out I was in it and my character actually had lines.”

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