Philadelphia Theater Company Uses the Internet as a Part of the Performance

The internet has dramatically changed most aspects of communication and entertainment over the last two decades.  Even theater, which has remained remarkably loyal to its Greek origins over the last few thousand years, is now being changed by the internet, especially when it comes to New Paradise Laboratories, a Philadelphia-based theater company that is using the internet and social media to present its plays.

For example, for the production Fatebook, the audience can browse the production’s cast list online and follow the characters’ social media accounts.  By browsing the characters’ Facebook accounts one begins to become immersed in the characters’ thoughts, personalities, and can observe online interactions between the characters.  After following that, the group’s performance of Fatebook consisted of the characters interacting at a party — characters that some audience members had been following for months though social media, a 45-minute audio tour, and a YouTube video.

Katy Otto, the New Paradise Laboratories “Activity Coordinator,” tells, “A few years ago, we realized there was a whole audience of people that weren’t really participating in theater but they really heavily influenced by the Internet. They grew up online.  NPL had a lot of interest in making theater that would appeal to these people.”

Whit MacLaughlin, the Artistic Director, adds, “I feel like it’s like a medium where stories can be told in a whole bunch of ways.  I wanted to find out how you use translate theater into an online space. You have to figure out the narration of social media — how to convey something about a person.”

The online characters for Fatebook aren’t something that developed only weeks or a month before the live show.  Actress Annie Enneking reveals that she had been portraying her character through social media for nearly a year and, since the character is a musician, Enneking recorded songs as the character.  She explains, “I felt very vulnerable to do it.  I was creating the character online for nine months.”  Of course, there are both benefits and drawbacks with “living” with a character that long.  “What I loved the most was that I had a constant outlet for my creativity. I would follow my impulses. I was creating little pieces for my character,” she adds. “After the show closed, it felt like a little death.”

It’s certainly a direct way to connect with audiences.  While I see social media as a great way to promote theater, I’ve never seen a theater group use social media as a component to the production as much as this.  To me it’s similar to how movie studios have used viral marketing to promote their latest films — though I’d be curious to find out how effective those marketing techniques work on a much smaller theater audience.

Check out the rather eclectic New Paradise Laboratories website here.

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