Each year my theatre group, the Edinburgh Grads Theatre Group, decide what productions we are putting up. Directors pitch their ideas for one of four slots. Spring, Autumn and two in the Fringe. In 2014 I’ve blagged an extra slot for something a little different. I’m doing a play.
More accurately, I am a producing a devised, semi-improvised “soap opera” performance on Twitter following several dozen characters over the build up to the outbreak of the First World War from the 1st June 1914 until the first week in August.
Actors will take on the characters of 1914 Twitter users, engaging with each other and with members of the public. Interactions will be improvised, in character, based on characters developed in rehearsal workshops and timelines of key historic, local and character events.
The piece aims to explore the popular experience of the outbreak of the First World War and the other important national and personal events that people were interested in over the summer of 1914, whether social media technology like Twitter would prevent or facilitate another mass war and to contrast the perception of current events with the eventual outcomes.
The piece also aims to explore whether social media forms are suitable venues for drama.
I’m not sure anyone has done anything like this before. Certainly, I’ve never done anything like this before. The RSC did a twitter version of Romeo and Juliet. I’ve seen various attempts to take on to twitter historical or fictional characters but nothing where the entire performance was on Twitter and designed to be mainly experienced through Twitter. Frankly, I’ll be making this up as I go along. Hopefully, making it up about one week ahead of the performers. The first workshop / taster session is scheduled for Wednesday 6th November.
The general plan is to develop some characters in a series of workshops. The characters should be interesting people and have interests that make them willing and able to comment on contemporary i.e. 1914 events. Characters would then be cross-referenced with a time line of historic events. Not just big, war related events. Specifically not in fact. What I want to tease out is that for most people in the early summer of 1914 war was an unlikely occurrence and distraction from domestic politics and their own lives. There was a lot going on in the UK in 1914. Irish Home Rule, women’s suffrage and industrial unrest. As a fabulous example in Edinburgh in June the portrait of George V was attacked by a leading suffragist and in June and July she was tried and convicted and then released under the Cat and Mouse Act. It’s almost as if we needed a war to keep people busy and distracted. I intend to layer on some continuing drama – the soap opera part. This should give the characters some life of their own, a reason to get out of bed and tweet about something and something for the audience to watch and respond to beyond being a mouthpiece for some history. The combination of the historical and political events and the character events should lead to the creation of a character grid – with topics to tweet about organised by day.
I am excited and terrified in equal measure.
If you are interested in taking part I’d be delighted to have you involved.