Recently, I was tagged in a comment thread on Facebook after American Theatre Magazine raised a question posed by one of its fans:
Which plays effectively incorporate contemporary communication technologies – interactions on Facebook, Twitter, Skype, online chat, texting, etc? How have they overcome some of the obvious challenges in portraying those types of communications?
Carleigh Welsh, Sponsorship Consultant for Performance Space 122 and Director of Marketing and Communications at The Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts, mentioned my play Feeder: A Love Story, which was super sweet. Our team worked hard to integrate prerecorded and live video feeds and create a fun and engaging online experience.
I’m happy to see this question asked, and I especially enjoyed the query’s frame, presuming there is theatre successfully incorporating these technologies. I eagerly read other responses in the comment thread since I include this in my work. I’m always on the hunt for theatre integrating tech well. A few suggestions were Carlos Murillo’s Dark Play or Stories for Boys, Real Girls Can’t Win by Merri Biechler, Tommy Smith’s Girlfriend, and even Patrick Marber’s Closer.
Then, a man wrote: The experience of using those technologies is innate anti-theatrical.*
A woman immediately responded to the comment: That is piffle.
The man’s retort?
People spend ALL DAY LONG looking at screens, why would we expose them to that when they pay money to come to a theater? I suppose if you wanted to talk about how boring these technologies make people that would make a great play.
One of the obvious challenges in portraying those types of communications is overcoming prejudices of theatre purists like this fellow. Theatre is a congregational experience that entertains with live performance supported by a vast array of tools. Technologies are tools just like puppets, costumes or sets. To fully expand creatively, we should use every tool in the box. Even Annie Dorsen’s Hello Hi There, which employs no actors whatever, is a theatrical exploration of these technologies. Is it a play? Not in the traditional sense, but it is theatre.
If “people spend ALL DAY LONG looking at screens,” why wouldn’t we portray that on stage? Are we supposed to pretend computers, mobile devices and video technology do not exist? They permeate every moment of our lives. To keep theatre isolated is limiting and dogmatic. A better question is, “How can one write a contemporary play and completely ignore technology?”
People debate: What is theatre? What is good theatre? What is the best kind of theatre?
Expressing opinions freely wherever one wishes is healthy. Open people might listen and learn. Closed-minded individuals will continue to write negative drivel on comment boards and Facebook walls. I create theatre that matters to me, and fortunately I’ve met others who create theatre to which I aesthetically and emotionally relate. There are markets for everything, and so it is with theatre. Whether it’s downtown experimental performance art, a well made play on Broadway or something in between, we’re all in this together. Why spent time debating theatrical purity when it’s subjective anyway? All that matters is whether the show moves and entertains the audience.
Transmedia storytelling is a big part of the work I do. Transmedia isn’t for everyone, nor should it be in every play because not every play calls for it. However, those who suggest tech tools have no place in theatre should go to Broadway and see a musical or two. Most implement some sort of “multi-media” and have for over 20 years. If people do not want to see technology on stage, those plays certainly exist. If you value that aesthetic, support it and let tech advancements continue evolving theatre elsewhere.
As part of their 50th anniversary, Theatre Communications Group created a blog series called the “What If…” Project, asking what if we imagined the theatre field of the next 50 years, and began making visible progress today? TCG kindly invited me to respond to the question, What if Theatre Embraced Transmedia? Funnily, there are still people out there who can’t even face the question “What if theatre embraced multi-media?” If we are to make progress, we must accept both.
Opposing the integration of communication technologies in theatre is artistically irresponsible. As long as we keep embracing technology in our daily lives, it should continue on manifesting onstage. Art reflects life, and life includes technology.
*All grammatical errors belong to the poster.
If you’re interested in hearing me speak more in depth about these topics, I’m presenting on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at the Transmedia New York City Meetup. I’ll share details on the creation of my play Feeder: A Love Story, and discuss examples of theatre taking up technology in this new and exciting fashion. There are still slots available. It’s free, and you can SIGN UP HERE.