Social media Shakespeare: An idea whose time has finally come | Bleader

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Social media Shakespeare: An idea whose time has finally come

Posted By on 05.02.13 at 10:22 AM

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Since social media's such great entertainment already—admit it, that's why you stay "friends" with people you secretly believe are psychotic sociopaths and would hide from in real life—it's almost surprising that more professionals haven't bothered to co-opt it into formal entertainment beyond fake Twitter feeds. Or maybe that is the problem: that social media's such great entertainment already.

Anyway, Isinglass, a Portland, Oregon-based theater company, has decided to take the plunge by bringing Shakespeare to social media, specifically Much Ado About Nothing. This weekend the "cast," which includes a few Chicagoans, will impersonate Beatrice, Benedick, and crew, updating their Facebook and Twitter feeds as though the events in the play are unfolding in real time.

It's really a good thing that they chose a comedy. It would be a real drag to read about how someone choked his wife to death or was fatally stabbed in a sword fight.

Though, ironically, it was a death that inspired John Zajac, Isinglass's artistic director (and recent transplant from Chicago), to come up with the idea of Social Shakespeare.

John Zajac
  • isinglasstheater.org
  • John Zajac
"My friend passed away," he says. "I found out because someone posted on Facebook to say good-bye. That sent me diving into a world of information, his timeline, Tweets, what his other friends were saying. I constructed a whole story."

The whole experience made Zajac philosophical. "Social media makes actors of us all," he says. "People construct narratives, how they want the group to see them, and then reality peeps through the narrative. It's striking how people slip when something happens. It makes it more real. It's so intimate. We experience a story and get involved emotionally—like in theater."

Much Ado was chosen, Zajac says, because of all the misinformation that's passed around by various characters. It's just like real life! (As his prime example, Zajac cites the YouTube video from last year of an eagle picking up a toddler in a park in Montreal. "Everyone believed it because they saw it online.") Also relevant to modern audiences: there's an element of bullying in the play.

(If you're not familiar, or if you've just forgotten, Isinglass has helpfully provided an annotated plot synopsis.)

All the characters, including Don John, played by Zajac, will be posting in modern English. (The actors, who live in different cities across the country, have warned their regular friends and followers that they'll be performing this weekend.) Viewers are encouraged to interact with them with likes and comments and retweets and all the rest of it.

"Theater is about getting as many people involved as possible," Zajac says. "Something I love about this format is that viewers can become a part of the story. I'm beyond excited to see how people try to mess with it."

Social Shakespeare goes live at 9 AM on Fri 5/3 and continues until 5 PM on Sun 5/5. Follow along at socialshakespeare.org.

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