Have our connected lives made for a less civilized society? Or is it the modern equivalent to the conversations we once had over the neighbourhood fence? Do our online personas match who we are in real life? Or are we emboldened by a sense of anonymity, and a desire to keep up with the Joneses?
In their new show Hyperlink, Vancouver theatre artists, Itai Erdal and TJ Dawe, explore the interactions we have every day online, and the impact they can have in real life.
“We’ve all got stories that involve how the Internet has impacted us,” says Dawe. “Hyperlink is an exploration of how those stories add up to a collage of impressions of what the Internet is doing to us individually and collectively.”
“I would add that it is a show about the gap between how we express ourselves online and who we really are,” says Erdal.
The genesis for Hyperlink actually began some six or seven years for Erdal, who had read the comments on a Facebook post.
“It was just a photo of some high school kids and other kids were commenting on it,” he says. “They were so mean, like only teenagers can be.”
After reading the hundreds of comments, Erdal knew it was something he wanted to eventually write about. It wouldn’t be until years later when he saw Dawe perform that he pitched the idea of writing the show together.
“I went to see his show Medicine and I was just blown away,” says Erdal. “I think I told him at the time that I am the exact opposite of him, and that’s why he should work with me.”
Meeting to talk about their mutual interests, the Internet was among them. When Erdal showed Dawe the Facebook post he had seen years before, he agreed there was something worth investigating theatrically.
“We also realized this is a subject that isn’t really explored on stage,” says Dawe. “I don’t know of a single adult who doesn’t spend a significant portion of their lives online, and yet we’re not talking about this in the theatre.”
“I don’t think the internet is inherently good or bad. I just think it’s a tool and what people do with it is reflective of who they are as people.” – TJ Dawe
Describing Hyperlink as a collage of life online, the duo set out to create a show which is very different from what they have done in the past.
“I am a designer, but my shows so far has also been, like TJ, quite sparse technically,” says Erdal. “It’s mostly about the storytelling, but this story is a departure for both of us because of the design elements.”
Those components include projections by Cande Andrade, live music from Mark Haney who will play the double bass onstage, and choreography by Kayla Dunbar.
“I think there’s way more design elements to the show than in any of our previous shows,” says Erdal. “That’s one way we’re tackling the show about the Internet with a lot of confidence.”
Taking real interactions and posts from online sources like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Dawe and Erdal have thread them together into what is now Hyperlink. And while at times the curated pieces will naturally come from what proceeded it, there are other times when they will abruptly change gears, subjects and styles. For Dawe, it is very much like spending time on the Internet.
“Most of us have several tabs open on a given browser,” he explains. “When you’re scrolling through a Twitter feed or a Facebook feed, something will come up. Maybe it’s something you would expect, and maybe it’s something that’s completely surprising. You click on it and that brings you into another world. Then maybe there are links within that link and you click on those, and it will send you into another world. Then you come back to this other tab that you abandoned before.”
While the duo use actual examples of online interactions, they have changed the names of those involved. However, given these are taken directly from their own online experiences, there still remains the possibility some in the audience will recognize themselves.
“We’re not stealing anybody’s private journals,” says Erdal. “We’re using stuff that people posted for everybody to read. It is an interesting conversation in itself, about what’s private and what’s public.”
Not deliberately wanting to make a statement or judgement about our plugged-in lives, Erdal and Dawe are interested in the human side of our seemingly online obsession.
“I think it’s a show about people, about human beings,” says Erdal. “Like everything, it’s an excuse to delve into the human psyche.”
“I don’t think the Internet is inherently good or bad,” adds Dawe. “I just think it’s a tool, and what people do with it is reflective of who they are as people.”
Hyperlink plays the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova St, Vancouver), October 4-14. Visit https://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.