Earlier this year, Samuel Sene, the director of Musidrama, asked me, and my husband Thierry Boulanger, to write a new musical tailor-made for his company of young professionals. The challenge - to create a show with equal billing for all 10 actors...
As we began brainstorming ideas, my thoughts turned to a theme that has been at the back of my mind for quite a few years now.
Back in the late 1990's, I found myself in New York City for almost a year. One of my roommates spent a lot of time pursuing on-line dating, chatting with various men before finally meeting them (or not) in person. It was a path fraught with disappointment - none of the live meetings ever stood up to the "chats" they'd had beforehand. The longer I stayed in New York, the more bright, beautiful women I encountered who were caught up in the hope of meeting their soulmate on-line, spending hours in front of their screens as opposed to out in the real world. It was a phenomenon peculiar to NYC at the time, but has since become a universal trend. In the 15 years since that trip, social networks have exploded, and the options are endless for "connecting" not just with a potential soulmate, but with others in general.
This 21st century paradox has become such a part of our daily lives that we barely even notice it; we are all longing to connect with others, and yet the connection is taking place increasingly at a distance and via a screen, whether smartphone, tablet or computer. And then there are all the peripheral issues surrounding the use of social media: the temptation to reinvent ourselves, to only present the positive, flattering side of our lives, the illusion that we are "friends" with lots of people, connected to our peers, the hope that these connections are valid, important, validating... the list goes on!
Thus began several months of research into social media as I started to develop an idea: a week-end in the lives of ten students living in a dormitory in Paris and who are constantly "connected", although not necessarily with each other! An agoraphobe, a night watchman, a hacker, a catacomb enthusiast, a cybergoth, to name a few… what do they all have in common? They are literally looking for love in all the wrong places: on social networks, apps and on-line dating sites. The weekend I imagine for them is not necessarily the one that they were expecting and will be one that they won't soon forget, especially when every moment is immediately shared and tagged on-line, permanently preserved on the internet. #TGIF #smsbreakup #selfie #fakation… All I needed now was a title, and given everyone's current penchant for tagging their posts with cryptic words preceded by a #, Hashtags seemed particularly appropriate.
With #Hashtags!, I'm hoping to write a show that is lighthearted and non-judgemental, and that will take advantage of the comic potential in the vicarious, virtual aspect of these students' lives. And I'm also hoping to get my feet wet in the world of transmedia storytelling.
"Hmmm... what is transmedia storytelling?", I hear you asking. Well, basically it means telling a story via several different media platforms. So dipping my little toes into the sea, I've asked the performers to create an on-line identity for their characters and in fact, some of them have already begun blogging and tweeting as their alter egos. This gives the actors a new and different way to build their characters, but also gives audience members a chance to interact with the characters, following them and commenting on their posts if they want to.
In addition, Samuel and I are hoping to develop an app that will allow us to push content to the audience's smartphones and tablets during the show. If we manage to do this in time (the first performances are in June - EEEEK! that's practically tomorrow!), we will be walking a fine line - showing just enough of what our on-stage characters are "posting" without making it so distracting that the audience loses track of what's happening on stage...
But in the meantime, it's full steam ahead with the script itself, starting with the opening song named... you guessed it! "Hashtags!" And if you're curious, don't hesitate to start checking out some of our "students" as they post about their lives. Let me introduce you to two of them:
Rachel is a recovering agoraphobe who is beginning to explore the world. But is she really travelling to all the places she claims to be visiting?
Check out her Twitter feed HERE
Laura is a huge fan of Nina Hagen and lately has been contemplating making the change from Goth to Cybergoth. How will her very bourgeoise family react to her increasingly outlandish outfits?
Visit her Twitter Feed HERE