It’s common knowledge that the internet is the quickest and easiest way to communicate ideas. It’s accurately been named the information superhighway a place where every question has an answer found on Google. Social media, a platform unlike any other in history, allows everyday people to share their own thoughts and opinions, or the thoughts and opinions of others, without filter, without proper research, and without general decorum. And, unlike the days of yore where one had to read a newspaper or tune into the evening news to hear professional journalists report top stories, now any layman with a wifi connection and a blog account can influence hundreds or even thousands of people without any real restraint.
In response to this 21st century phenomenon, The Highwood Theatre in downtown Silver Spring is exploring the sometimes dangerous consequences of social media and incorporating it into their next professional production, RIOT.
Set in Sam’s Coffee Shop, a favorite neighborhood hangout on the campus of fictional Whitney College, RIOT begins innocently enough as a local student activist organizes a peaceful protest to change the name of the university mascot, The Crusaders. But as false information spreads on Twitter like wildfire, the diverse group of coffee house patrons, unsure of what to believe or who to trust, start to turn against one another and the heated debate becomes violent.
This groundbreaking original play, devised by the cast and creative team, not only deals with social media within the plot of the show, but it also gives the audience the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of the play, guiding the story through interaction with the characters and voicing their opinions on Twitter. (For anyone who’s ever wanted to liveTweet a theatrical production, this is your chance.)
RIOT is the product of Highwood’s 3rd annual Open Source Theatre Project, where art emerges through collaboration and the concept of a “typical night at the theatre” is challenged.
Highwood’s Executive Director Kevin Kearney explains that “Highwood wanted to explore not only a piece that would be relevant and thoughtprovoking, but one the audience could engage in and leave their mark on.” Social media was a natural choice as it is available to nearly everyone and has the power to greatly influence our decisions.
In addition to social media, RIOT delves into topical issues such as race, class inequality and discrimination. The audience is sure to have strong opinions, which in turn, will determine the action of the play.
Artistic Director Matthew Nicola describes the show, “RIOT is an incredibly unique piece that deserves to be seen by a wide audience. Not only does it address such relevant topics in a time where protests are common on colleges campuses and in cities across the nation, but it gives the audience a chance to witness the powerful effects of social media on our actions.” Information we read online, whether true, exaggerated or entirely false, often leads to emotional reactions and snap judgements.
In RIOT, when the audience has an emotional reaction or makes a snap judgement, it will directly influence a character’s action. Nicola elaborates, “By controlling the course of the show, every audience member can inform or mislead the six characters’ views of the outside world and their dependence on media.”
So in the end, the outcome of this riot, is up to us.
RIOT features the talents of Jennifer Berry (Stacy), Smitty Chai (Ryan), Mollie Goff (Andrea), Nerissa Hart (Nicole), Christopher Holbert (Officer Frank), and Andrew Quilpa (Chris). It was developed and directed by Sue Schaffel and Assistant Directed by Garrett Schaffel.
Fight Choreographer: Claudia Rosales; Stage Manager: Kelsey Murphy; Set Design: Toly Yarup and Kevin Kearney; Lighting Design: Simon Ellerbe; and Sound Design: Orion Stekoll.
RIOT opens Friday, February 19th at 7:30 pm and plays through Sunday, February 28, 2016 at The Highwood Theatre – 924 Silver Spring Avenue, in Silver Spring, MD. Tickets are $25 (student tickets $20) and can be purchased online or at the door.
This preview was written by Sarah Scott.