Thanks to post-modern theatre and post-post-modern theatre (and heaven knows have far we’ve come on THAT front), we now live in a theatrical culture that is on a constant look outwards and upwards, always looking for the next big thing or the next innovation. The fringe theatre scene seems to be the ideal place to let some of the pieces float around, and it’s fascinating to see where different groups think we will be going next. I wanted to look into a couple of these advances: be the teensy-tiny steps or so far into the future that they’re almost incomprehensible!
So, starting out small: obviously, the Internet is advancing into our lives with all the decency and tact or a freight train:
How many of our friends on Facebook are really our friends. or for that matter, how many of your friends are NOT your friends on Facebook? (Have a look, you may be surprised.)
Do you Tweet everything that you do? Or just some of it?
Do you read the newspaper online?
It seems we’re moving further and further into the realm of cyberspace (which I neither condone nor condemn), and it’s nice to see some recent theatre shows that try to talk about these topics. I reviewed My Second Life by Broken Leg Theatre this Brighton Fringe Festival (2010), and there’s a show that took the differences between our real lives and our online lives completely to heart: it even won a very deserved Argus Angel. However, for my tastes it didn’t go far enough. Sure, the basic thematic is excellent, and I love the scenarios that evolve around the topic of having separate lives online and off, but it wasn’t discussed. It wasn’t debated by the characters. All this play did (very well, I should add) is portray characters in their lives inside this psuedo-reality and in their own existence: I wanted to hear what they had to say for themselves! It’s interesting to note: this new area of thought seems to be appreciated as a framing device, but not for the actual discussion of the content.
A further quibble of mine was the fact that none of the show was actually online. For a show about the internet, there were no computer screens, no projections, no online characters: everything was performed by the actors. A stylistic choice, perhaps, but surely a show called My Second Life could have taken place on Second Life? Maybe the scenes online could have actually been online, or there could have been a twist of the online scenes being real and the offline scenes being online – or something similar? We have a brand new world at our fingertips, and what we seem to do is pussy-foot around it rather than involve it in our work. Is the entertainment world so scared of the internet?
On the converse, of course, is that there needs to be some level of theatricality to proceedings, otherwise the audience will be to confused to watch or even take part. Originality must either take one giant step and be perfect, or take smaller steps and ease the unwilling audience along. An example of where this didn’t work is a recent project I was semi-involved with, #SuchTweetSorrow. This was supposed to be an online production of Romeo and Juliet, played entirely through the medium of Twitter, but I couldn’t really make head or tail of it. That’s not to say it was badly done or organised: I love the inventive thought behind the idea, I just think it didn’t quite take that one big step. It needed a bit more theatricality for me, a small step forward rather than a giant leap that no-one could follow: maybe a line for line reproduction on Twitter, an event of sorts that was the whole play through a different medium. There must be a way to make this idea work – more thoughts to follow I’m sure!
I suppose it’s a question of innovation: do you often find yourself lagging behind the next big thing, or do you often feel 100% in the time and the moment? Probably, like me, you’ll skip in between the two, trying to keep up-to-date about some things and just doing and being it naturally for others. The point I’m making is: to keep theatre innovative, we need to be discussing these new technologies, we need to be using these new technologies, but we also need to know where we’re coming from. You have to take your audience along for the ride: challenge them to take that first step with something new and different, but don’t necessarily try and drag them further than they can go.
Anyway, I hope to see much more online theatre and entertainment. I think there is plenty of scope for some more interactive and exciting ideas with the internet: hopefully this has inspired you to have some of your own. Take the first step!