July 2009 Archives
Life on Facebook can get pretty weird. Suddenly guys you dumped 20 years ago are commenting on your family vacation photos, while people you can't recall ever talking to when you saw them every day now give you the thumbs up several times a week. This summer, New Paradise Laboratories is making Facebook even weirder.
NPL will present Fatebook here in Philly at September's Live Arts Festival. But in keeping with the show's theme--the blurring of online and real life--characters who will populate the performance are now on Facebook and Twitter and available for friending or following. Actually, the process began about a year ago when NPL posted the cast's audition videos on YouTube. Me? I friended them all, the Mormon missionary, the Canadian Zamboni driver, the beauty queen. I also went from resenting the effort, to maintaining mild suspicion, to looking for their status updates, and yes, interacting just the slightest bit. Sure it's strange trading quips with a fictional character, but considering that some of my mellowest friends are deeply engaged in a Facebook game called Mafia Wars, which causes them to post sentences saying, "I need illegal transaction records and an untraceable cellphone," maybe a whole lot of us are fictional characters online. The fictional June Summer McCarthy's current update reads, "If you can pretend some aspect of yourself isn't real, then it's not real... Right?"" To which the equally fictional Julia Zelda Taylor responds, "What's real?" Indeed.
The real question though, isn't just whether or not social media has become a means of fictionalizing ourselves (though that's a good one), but whether NPL artistic director Whit McLaughlin is, with Fatebook, expanding the very definition of live performance. Most theater companies use sites such as Facebook and Twitter to promote their performances or show backstage videos. NPL uses these sites as the performance itself, and for some reason it seems more immediate, closer to the meaning of live performance than, for example, an opera simulcast live from the Met to your local cinema. Somehow--perhaps due to its interactive nature--with a Facebook-based performance, there are several less degrees of separation.
If these are fictional characters posting in real time, is it live theater whether or not the whole thing culminates in an actual humans-congregating-in-one-place experience? Aren't humans already congregating in one place when all of the characters' "friends" read their status updates, watch their videos and respond to their messages?
Thus far the cast averages around 100 friends each (the women are slightly more popular; read into that what you will) and I'm curious to see how many of their friends and followers will attend the festival performance and how many are along solely for the virtual ride. Are you following? Will you be at the show?... That is, in person... That is, physically in the same room and within touching distance of the performers? Weigh in.
Below: Darren Bobich, Zamboni jockey. Or not.
I was supposed to review Theatre rEvolution's newest production, Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things, this week but unfortunately my space was cut. So in fairness to the kids--and they are kids, all theater students at or recent grads of Philly's University of the Arts--I'm posting yet another philosophical inquiry based on one of their shows. Oh, and if you're wondering, I really did like the production and hope to see Haley McCormick (she played Jenny, LaBute's idea of a nice, normal girl who, naturally, makes out with her boyfriend's best friend) all over Philly's stages next season.
Last time, Theatre rEv's superb production of Kenneth Lonergan's disaffected This Is Our Youth got me in a comparing way (apologies, but it seems the Inquirer has archived the reviews linked on that entry). This time, it's bitch-slapping LaBute and a playwright whose work bitch-slapped LaBute's at this year's Tony Awards, Yasmina Reza. And no, they are not opposing forces.
I've heard Reasons to Be Pretty and God of Carnage are departures for both playwrights, and amen to that, but for our purposes, I'm matching their older work, the LaBute with Reza's Art. Why? Well, it's pretty simple: I hated them both for the same reasons. I don't need to literally be told there's a debate about what makes art; I'd like to just go ahead and engage in it, thanks.
In the LaBute, this debate arises several times; in the Reza, well, it is the play. In both, it's really, really dull. And didactic. And self-conscious. And, as I believe I've mentioned before, kind of a wank.
I get that the great art debate is a metaphor for something larger, but theater is also a metaphor for that same something, and honestly, it would be a lot less boring and pretentious if playwrights would just knock out the middle man and get on with making art, instead of discussing it.
Are you with me or against me?
I know I can't shut up about Twitter, I know it. Because I love it so. But this NPR feature challenging "Song of the Day" editor Stephen Thompson to tweet reviews of a bunch of new albums--thus using no more than 140 characters per album--seems an awful lot like asking a chicken to decide whether it would care to apply its own spice rub or barbecue sauce.
(At left: Thar she blows; Twitter's "Fail Whale.")
Of course a review can be distilled into one or two sentences. We critics do it all the time and call them capsule reviews, and sometimes they distil exactly what you, the critic, wanted them to say even better and with more precision than the full review. However, the point is that a full review, complete with (hopefully) in-depth analysis, relevant comparisons and maybe a little history, still exists, even if it only exists in a form that's about half the length that it was maybe a decade ago.
I'm not saying you can't tweet a review. You can, and plenty of people do. I'm saying that tweeting a review in its entirety misses out on one of Twitter's major strengths: turning people on to something cool. While self-contained tweets get retweeted--that is, repeated to one's own Twitter followers with credit given to the original tweeter--the tweets that spread like avian flu are those with a link attached, usually a link to a larger story, but also occasionally to a song, video, photo, anything that enhances one's content. Because people naturally want to know more about a subject that interests them, not less.
Twitter, with its easy dissemination of information and brief, intriguing tweets-as-bait, offers a gateway to a larger discussion of the arts. Why turn it into a dead end?