Bringing the virtual community to the stage

by Amy Kingsley

How does one go about translating a thoroughly 21st century phenomenon into a story that can be told in an art form as old as humanity?

Kim Moore does it with hula-hoops.

Welcome to YourPlace ‘… Or Mine? a play about online social networking recently awarded the honor of being selected for the New York Fringe Festival. Writer/director Moore conceived the premise after she realized how important sites like MySpace and Friendster had become to the lives of twenty and thirtysomethings.

‘“I’m in my thirties, so I was kind of a late adopter,’” Moore says. ‘“It was a whole new concept to me that I found pretty immediately fascinating.’”

For the uninitiated, a profile on a social networking site generally consists of a few photos, some general characteristics and can be spiced up with anything from slide shows to popular songs. Once a profile is set up, the owner goes about adding profiles of their friends to form a network. Which exists within a larger, virtual community of infinitely interlocking networks.

It can all become rather addicting, Moore says. Some users devote almost as many hours to their profiles as they spend furthering their careers or education. Others spit out bulletin after bulletin, ceaselessly updating their friends on every little thing going on in their lives. Stalking is not only commonplace, it’s implicitly condoned.

But for all the drama, the action can be rather difficult to translate to the stage. Moore first work shopped the concept in 2005, in a class she taught at Greensboro College.

‘“It was a scene that showed someone introducing someone else to MySpace,’” she says. ‘“It was sort of funny, but it’s really not compelling to watch people onstage looking at a computer.’”

So, the idea floated to the back burner for a year.

Moore, who received a master’s in playwriting from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, has a production company called American Distractions that participates in the annual Greensboro Fringe Festival. As the festival neared, Moore started thinking again about writing a play about online social networking. She assembled some theater colleagues for a series of workshops, where they hashed out characters and a rough storyline.

A play started to emerge. And this time, instead of staging it in the real world, Moore transformed the stage into a virtual social scene.

‘“We thought, ‘Let’s get inside that world,”” she says. ‘“How would you depict someone’s page? We started using the hula hoops to frame when a character was giving a bulletin.’”

The workshops, which achieved varying levels of success, all happened in the background of Moore’s teaching gig. The production did not completely come together until the day of its Greensboro Fringe Fest debut.

‘“That was the first time the entire cast had been in the room at the same time.’”

Virtual networking translates better to stage than Moore could have imagined.

‘“Theater audiences will accept so much,’” Moore says. ‘“You can point to a chair and say it’s a flamingo and the audience will accept it as a flamingo. Our Town is a perfect example of that’”

Her actors also accepted a few conventions for the stage virtual world that ran counter to years of theatrical training.

‘“Another convention we’ve used is that everybody speaks forward,’” Moore says. ‘“They are really not allowed to look at each other very much.’”

The show clicked with audiences, and the cast clicked with each other, so her producing partner Todd Buker took a chance and submitted the script to the New York Fringe Festival. The festival is a three-week bender of theater deemed ‘“fringe,’” a catchall phrase for productions unfit for Broadway.

‘“It’s an honor to perform but I was kind of skeptical of the whole thing,’” Moore says.

That skepticism stems from the cost of partaking in the festival, at least $25,000 for the cast and crew.

‘“We have to commit to being there for the whole time,’” she says. ‘“I got this random call about us getting into the Fringe Festival on May 6 and it’s been a nonstop frenzy since then.’”

As for the script itself, Moore’s been working on another draft and is working through her own notions about online networking. The play includes some of the downsides, the stalking and obsession, but does not dwell on them.

‘“I think MySpace has gotten a bad rap,’” Moore says. ‘“But it’s part of our society; it’s not going away. And like any society, it’s full of all different kinds of people. Some of them are good, some of them are bad.’”

The most interesting thing about audiences is that half of them leave the performance giddy with the anticipation of starting an online networking account and the other half talks about shutting theirs down, Moore says.

‘“When you ask most people what they thought, they will tell you it made them laugh,’” Moore says. ‘“We didn’t want to turn it into a dirgefest.’”