A local playwright moves the medium to a whole new world.
Is Twitter just another social-networking gimmick or a new artistic medium? Playwright Jeremy Gable believes it’s the latter. On Monday, Gable kicked off his new play, The 15th Line , which exists exclusively on Twitter and runs for the next two months with new installments added daily.
Set in an unnamed U.S. metropolis, Line concerns four people involved in a subway accident. The play invites the audience to interact with the characters, each of whom has his or her own Twitter account.
A recent transplant to Philly from Southern California (where he was the artistic director of Hunger Artists Theatre Company), Gable says the play’s story came from his love of Philly’s public transportation. “In California, I drove everywhere. And now, after only seeing it in the movies, I was riding the subway. I became fascinated with the idea that I was sharing a ride with a random group of strangers,” Gable explains. “We’ve seen numerous examples of public tragedy bringing people together, and social networking gives strangers a chance to connect with each other. And we’ve even seen the two working together, such as with the Iranian protests. So I felt that the idea of a subway accident and its aftermath would fit perfectly with the platform of Twitter.”
The play’s characters communicate and connect with each other exclusively via Twitter, a concept that poses unique challenges for a playwright. Foremost is Twitter’s 140-character limit, which Gable explains makes monologues nearly impossible. Additionally, on Twitter, the characters know that everything they say is public. “With most plays, the characters are revealing and open about their problems because they assume they’re in private,” explains Gable. “All of these characters are aware that they’re on Twitter, and therefore know that there’s an audience watching them. So I have to be mindful that whatever they say is stuff that they would say in public, and when it’s not, that there’s a reason for them to say it.”
Gable was inspired to create an online work after experiencing the Broadway musical Next To Normal’ s inventive Twitter story. “I realized that Twitter is so simple in its design that you could follow multiple people all from one page, and it wouldn’t feel inauthentic,” says Gable.
Gable has penned six full-length works, but says the process of creating a social-network performance differs dramatically. “When writing for the stage, the audience makes the conscious choice to surrender a few hours of their time, and so they’re more patient with the story. With Twitter, the play is happening in the midst of the audience’s lives, so each day needs to be memorable. In 140 [Gable’s first Twitter play] I wasn’t mindful of how much time I was asking the audience to invest in the story. This time, I’ve learned to spread the action out more evenly. If I’m going to ask an audience to follow these characters for two months, it needs to be a compelling two months.”
Audience participation isn’t a new idea in theater, but Gable says with Twitter the audience can become part of the story. “With the previous play, there was a guy who was replying a lot to all of the characters. And I had already written that one of the characters got a vital piece of information from ‘a friend’ so I asked that guy to write to the character on Twitter telling him that he had that piece of information. He was more than happy to oblige, and he found himself a part of the play. I get excited when a play does something unique to draw me into its world, and with Line , the audience may actually be able to contribute to the action.”
Gable isn’t the first theater artist to go cyber. New Paradise Laboratories scored a hit at the 2009 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival with Fatebook , an innovative work that could be experienced both online and in live performance. In Line , however, the action occurs in cyberspace. Shakespeare probably didn’t anticipate Tweeting, but in online performance all the world truly is a stage. ■
You can follow The 15th Line at twitter.com/twit_play