Fake Friends

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.
July 22, 2009 11:58 AM | | Comments (3)


Great article. The question you raise about whether or not Fatebook is defining a model for the cross analogue-digital performance paradigm is very poignant.

I was also thinking about that. It may be too premature to draw conclusions at this point, the project is cutting edge stuff. But I did find out more in an interview I conducted with Whit MacLaughlin via Skype. I edited and published the transcript on my blog here: http://www.londontheatreblog.co.uk/on-the-real-fatebook-and-whit-maclaughlin/

What I find particularly interesting about the project is the character development process and the director's role in the online component of the show. 'Building a character' takes on a new meaning in this context - as do many of the performative terms we take for granted in 'physical world' performance. It certainly provides much food for thought.

This is amazingly immersive. I'd like to think Karen Getz, Grace Gonglewski and I helped pave the way with the first online Live Arts/Fringe show, "The Many Men of Martha Manning", in 2007, followed by Brat's "Martha & Dotty: Microwave Mambo!" in 2008.

Both were podcast comedies, of course, and not massive interactive productions that combined online and live performances, as "Fatebook" does. I'm totally hooked and can't wait to see how this all plays out.

(If you're interested in the Martha & Dotty shows, you can find them both at http://marthamanning.org)

Asfintit Kingston here... thinking that the Fatebook experience is so sublime, it makes my Facebook experience so much more meaningful. Like playing any virtual-reality game, I am more engaged. Anticipation is building for the actual show, Whis is building a global-performance!

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.