La Boite Indie & Madcat Creative Connections
With the support of QPAC
May 8 – 24 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Six Degrees – Bloomberg – Usenet – GeoCities – Friendster – MySpace – Orkut – Flickr – Facebook – Twitter – Tumblr – Instagram – Pinterest – Linkedin – Google+ – SnapChat – Kik – Machina
deus ex machina
No, not the Smashing Pumpkins album, not the motorcycle, and not the famed café chain (now open in Bali!).
I don’t know that Machina’s ending is quite right but let’s not start there. Let’s start at the very beginning, which is basically where we are right now, transfixed by a screen, quite possibly by multiple screens, juggling gadgets; probably engaging in several conversations whilst simultaneously checking emails and scrolling through news feeds.
We are living masterfully created half-lives online and something else, something almost resembling real lives, offline.
Machina is a play to make us think deeply about the connections we make – or fail to make – in real life and those we make so effortlessly in the virtual world via various social media constructs, which we’ve had at our fingertips since well before 2004 when the world’s most popular platform, Facebook, first appeared. That’s right. It’s Facebook’s tenth year so what better time to program, as part of the La Boite Indie season, Richard Jordan’s intriguing new work about a guy who decides that “going inside” is a better option than continuing life on earth. Think about that. It’s mind blowing.
One month ago, David Sergeant made the ultimate commitment to social media, choosing to forever separate mind and body by uploading his consciousness into social networking site Machina. An experimental and irreversible new process known as ‘going inside’, the user discards their need for a physical body and attains a kind of digital immortality in the cloud.
WOW. UPLOADING HIS CONSCIOUSNESS. As you will have read in the Playwright’s Note and in our interview with Jordan here, the notion of disappearing from real life in order to live eternally in the ether is not as sci-fi as it might at first appear to be. Sometimes I think some of us are already ready to opt (out) for that. Scary, really. There is good reason behind the loneliness people feel, despite having thousands of Twitter and Insta Followers and Facebook friends…the interactions are not quite the same, are they?
I used to spend a lot more time on Facebook and Twitter. No, really! Social media is an addiction and I tend to go through phases of taking responsibility for decreasing the amount of time daily on each social media platform. I seem to be on Instagram a lot more often lately. I totally blame Fat Mum Slim’s #fmsphotoaday challenge for that! I also love to keep up with pics from my family on Insta because there’s a new baby, and #100waystospellterese
I often explain to friends that Instagram is to the Internet what Disneyland is to the planet – it’s the happiest place online.
I can’t stand the sob stories, vaguebooking, self-promotion and relentless advertisements in my Facebook news feed so more often than not I’ll use Insta to post a photo (my Insta is also synched to Twitter #sorrynotsorry) and I’ll use Facebook just to check in somewhere #xsneverstops
As the X of XS Entertainment I often feel a certain amount of pressure to maintain the public image we’ve worked so hard to establish. Don’t get me wrong, we really actually do have heaps of fun! And if we’re not having fun, I’m generally not posting about it. Social media lets us edit our lives this way so what we’re seeing is only the most interesting, gorgeous, intelligent, witty, wonderful, successful versions.
Wait. You knew that, right?
I still rely on gmail for invites, press releases and quick notes about what’s happening around town but I’m trying to measure the amount of time spent being a passive user of social media, which is really just another way of admitting that I’m trying to procrastinate less.
As a consequence of not being prolifically on any particular platform anymore, I miss stuff. I miss birthdays, engagements, weddings, separations, the births of babies, the acquisition of new pets, and the loss of old pets, your new pair of shoes, your new property, your new position at work, your children’s achievements and much more. Sometimes I suffer from serious #FOMO and other times I genuinely think that friends and family members will call or email if they have something they need me to know. Sometimes I’m right and I hear from them IRL! Hooray! Sometimes I CALL THEM! I KNOW! I feel slightly disconnected, yes, but I’m not prepared to go back to the hours of trawling through news feeds, and liking and sharing and re-tweeting to safeguard against you thinking that I don’t care about what’s happening in your life. I do care. But LIFE is happening (or trying to happen) here too and sometimes that doesn’t need to be announced.
I MIGHT BE WRITING. BUT I MIGHT NOT POST ABOUT IT.
I have friends who simply deactivate their accounts temporarily in order to get things done. Do they really? Wow! Do you? Do you get more done? Or do you sit and wonder what everyone is up to while you’re not reading their updates? My preferred strategy involves resisting checking any social media before the school run and also, whenever I’m supposed to be focusing on something. Like a review. Or a movie. Or a conversation. *opens new tab to check Facebook purely for the Production Gallery images on La Boite Theatre Company’s page. Really.
On weekdays that’s around 9am and for the most part of the day…some days. Some days I just see how many hours from waking I can stay off social media! I know, it’s exciting, isn’t it? When I’m out somewhere I might post a foodie photo, check into a place on Facebook and see that I have, like, 84 notifications. Sometimes I check some of them. I’m truly sorry if I miss your stuff. I’m confident in the knowledge that if our friendship and/or support is valuable enough to you, you’ll call or sms or email to get my attention, and just so you know, I’m trying to do that more often too. *brings iPhone screen to life to make sure there is no message regarding tomorrow’s arrangements, which include a lunch date, school pick up, yoga and a meeting in Brisbane at peak hour traffic time. What was I doing? Oh, the blog. Review. Right.
In Machina, Director, Catarina Hebbard, has deftly created a world on stage of missed connections – barely-even-there connections – as well as ever-present people with whom the characters are yet to connect (I love the opening image of dancers floating “out there”, together in isolation in the ether…or is it in real life?). It’s as if we are watching the same self-study that leads to considering deactivating the social media accounts, but not seriously, because if we do so where will we be? What will become of us? We won’t exist in the minds of others if our news is not in front of them every day and we might even cease to exist for ourselves. What are we if not a continuously evolving online presence? #ifitdidnthappenonfacebookdiditreallyhappen
Some of the connections between characters come across more successfully than others. I love the very awkward relationship between Scott (Jack Kelly) and Tom (Liam Nunan), particularly during their first meeting at a bus stop. Necessarily AWK-WARD. This scene is played out beautifully, perfectly timed to elicit the sort of restrained laughter we feel might offend because somebody (Scott) is just trying so hard! I feel like Nunan is the one to watch here – he has some superb moments of reflection and intense emotion throughout the play as he struggles to communicate offline and away from his completely competent online persona. Within his story is the crux of the play – how do we see others, and ourselves, and how do we present in real life with the same confidence and charisma as that which we’ve created online? In contrast, Kelly may have some subtlety to learn but his vivid characterisation is perfectly suitable, and he brings a lovely lightness to the production.
An odd friendship develops between Amanda (Luisa Prosser) and Hannah (Judy Hainsworth) that could possibly become another play – it seems to want to be its own story, with the girls switching online and actual identities, however; other than to prove a point I’m not sure why there is so much time afforded to this. The connection that we need, and the one I enjoy most, is between Isobel (Kaye Stevenson) and Adam (Peter Rasmussen). Stevenson plays David’s mother and she connects online via the social media platform, Machina, with Adam, who confesses he is there “for the sex”. Through this unlikely relationship she learns the truth about David – that at thirty-something her son was depressed and friendless, and felt his family would be better off without him actually being around. Despite the exposition, I left feeling a little confused, I’ll admit, which is perhaps the desired effect. Was David really dead then? He must be, but the question remains, are we ever truly gone now?
It’s clear that the piece has come from eleven separate scenes, the feeling of “dis/connect” is apparent throughout, though at one point early on, a scene erupts in such a tumult of noise and movement, a frenzy that detracts rather than adds value to the notion of Multi-tasking, like when I come back the next day to the ten or more tabs left open on my MacBook because I was “in the middle of something” or “coming back to something” or “keeping something to read for later” (yes, I know there are apps for that!), and I end up closing the window in frustration, too overwhelmed to start again and check out one by one, each of the tabs I felt were so important.
Machina is a beautifully considered and intelligent new work that needs some work, sure (the séance and the grating pulling-the-plug sound in between scenes can probably go!), but see it in The Loft, a space made more intimate than you might expect, with its white “cloud” overhead, and pure white blocks and props rather than the clutter and colour of real life. It makes it a rather surreal environment, as if we’d floated in after being online for thirty days straight. The design team, comprising Andrew Panda Haden (Lighting and Set Design), Phil Hagstrom (Composer and Sound Design) and Susan Marquet (Costumes), has had a field day keeping it simple and helping our focus to shift from one part of the fragmented story to the next.
The final part of the play offers some hope after all, promising that it’s still possible to make real-world connections, and that it’s really not as difficult or as awkward as we sometimes think it is, but the end comes too quickly, almost before we absorb what’s happening – physical contact, a warm and familiar, old fashioned, comforting, homecoming big old bear hug. Because that’s it. That’s sometimes all we need to do to reconnect; actually reach out, literally, hug. hold a hand, sit and look at each other, and take turns to listen and really talk to each other, actually engage, fully, without a smartphone in one hand and a mouse or tracking pad under the other. It’s clear (perhaps it already was) that the implications of virtual and social media taking over traditional communication channels include the loss of the skills we already had, that for some of us didn’t come easily in the first place. I can’t even imagine what social media would have done for me growing up. Apparently, I hid behind my mother’s skirts and said very little until I was nine. I know, you don’t believe it either. Now, with a daughter not turning nine for another year, who is totally tech-savvy and always checking in with me (“Mum, aren’t you going to foodie photo this?”) and downloading her own apps (“Mum, it’s a free one. I need your password!”), I’m really aware of how much time I spend on gadgets relationships.
Richard Jordan’s Machina is a cold, hard kick in the guts and a self-effacing laugh at the same time, and if you’re not already suggesting a phone stack at dinner, you will be after experiencing this show.
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