Theatre is a social medium – even if you attend alone, you are participating in a communal experience. But is it ready to merge with social media?
As performing artists hotly debate whether tweeting during live performances should be banned or encouraged, Toronto theatre artists Jenny Salisbury and Claire Acott began asking themselves if that debate could not itself become a show.
"Does being engaged with your smartphone in a performance enhance your experience or take away from it?" Salisbury asks. "Can connectivity be a source of joy, a source of pride or does it just leave us more lonely?"
Enter Dina: The Burlapped Crusader with an answer, just in time for the Toronto Fringe.
Dina, played by Acott in clowning mode, is a new superhero with a mission: "She's out the save the city, one over-connected citizen at a time," explains Salisbury, who directs.
The premise of Dina: The Burlapped Crusader, which opens Thursday at Theatre Passe Muraille, is that Dina has taken the audience hostage and is determined to make friends with every person in the room. You can call her on her phone, you can text her, tweet about her, befriend her on Facebook or check out her Tumblr blog – and you can do it all while watching her show. She's a lonely girl because her boyfriend dumped her – via text message. She's seeking your suggestions as to the best retort. Text them to her, she'll pick a winner and fire it off to the lout.
"It's a clown show with games and silliness, but underneath we are asking a question about loneliness," Salisbury said. "Are Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter bringing us together or pushing us apart?"
Dina will also ask you to play smartphone games, like joining in as everyone looks up the same YouTube video and presses play at the same time to provide her with a sound cue.
And she wants you to call in your advice on an important decision she has to make.
Or you can just turn your phone off and participate silently.
Salisbury stresses that while the show is heavily improvised around audience participation, it does have a structure and a script.
It can also be enjoyed by the phoneless, and can move ahead even with a recalcitrant audience that won't participate.
"We have backup plans and backup plans for our backup plans," she said. "If we had an entire busload who showed up without phones, the show would run."
But the point, of course, is to see what happens when the distracting technology is not silenced but rather enthusiastically invited into the theatre and made part of the communal process.
"This play is very much an experiment," Salisbury said. "Can we bring texting into a show? I don't know, but we need to try it out at the Fringe or in a cabaret before we take it to the mainstream theatres."
The Toronto Fringe opens Wednesday at various downtown locations. See www.fringetoronto.com for more information.