‘SELF’ appears to be a one-of-its-kind original theatrical experience if you hear the description from the creator of the show, director Michael Beets: ‘Self’ is a one-woman show about trust, friendship and betrayal on an online platform called ‘Social’. It will be the first smartphone-complemented theatre presentation in China. The audience’s smartphone device is an integral part of the show and its story.
Simply put, each member of the audience will download an app, especially created for the performance, onto their device before the show, and during the show, receive content (video, audio, text, etc. exclusive to the show) that runs in tandem with the live performance. The audience’s device thus becomes part of the story, helping to create a larger world for the narrative, provide an intimate portal into and deeper engagement with the characters’ lives and stories as they progress, and forge a more personal connection between the audience and the stage. This is a form of transmedia storytelling.
Michael Beets is a film and theatre director based in Shanghai, China. His 7 years in filmmaking has seen Michael work as a director, cameraman, and editor in a variety of projects including feature film, TVCs, television, documentaries, and his own personal film and theatre projects.
His interest in merging media to create a bold new narrative delivery have shaped his past productions of Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘No Exit’ and his stage adaptation of ‘Interview’ by Theo Van Gogh. In 2013, Michael was approached by Sundance to pitch for their invite only New Frontier Story Labs for his upcoming transmedia project ‘Champions Eat Eggplant’.
Michael Beets enjoys growing with technology and seeing how traditional storytelling can be converged with new media. You can see this mirrored in his portfolio.
We met Michael last month, while he was still preparing his latest project, ‘SELF’ and he told us more about the show.
How do you define “transmedia”?
Transmedia to me, means telling stories over multiple platforms. It is delivering complementary elements and connected stories across various platforms where the parts are equal and add to the overall experience.
People are used to turning off all devices and apps while in the theater. How did you develop this idea?
The idea developed after my previous show ‘Interview’ where I used video projection in a way that mixed film and theatre. I thought it could be interesting for everybody in the audience to be able to hold their own ‘film’, for a more personal connection. That’s where the idea of the app came into play and from which it has developed.
What type of response are you expecting from the audience?
It’s quite a wacky idea, so I think there will be mixed reactions. With experiments like these, there will always be people who will criticize the experience, but that’s what we want to honest. Without criticism how could we improve on the idea? With that said, I do believe the majority of people will walk away having seen something that will leave an impression.
How long did you work on preparing the show and how many people did it involve?
I have been working on the concepts for about a year now. It took about four months to write with Christy Shapiro, and we have been working on the app for about 4 months now.
‚SELF’ is a one-woman show and you are working with a relative newcomer. How did you find your actress and how has it been working with her in creating the pivotal role?
The rehearsal process has been interesting. We had a simple audition call and the response was great. Our main actress Katy Mulligan is a fantastic young actress and she has an incredibly difficult task on stage. Essentially she is acting alongside pre-recorded content. She has to be on every night, because the technology won’t stop for her. It’s a challenge but I know she will do great.
So, did you actually create a new social networking app dedicated to the play?
We made a very simple reimagining of how a social network might operate if everything was all voice activated. We didn’t create a new app, which would be crazy- it is all video content made to look like a social network.
Do you think ‘SELF’ somehow implies that we can communicate seamlessly by totally immersing in social media?
The play isn’t about social media to be honest. It is a simple story about these teenagers figuring out their roles and the way people perceive them. It just so happens to occur over a social network. In this instance, social media accelerates the story and a story that might have to take place over a couple of days, can take place over a couple of hours.
Michael, what type of persons you wouldn’t allow in your social circle?
That’s interesting. I barely allow anyone on my social circle anymore. Five years ago, I allowed anybody that requested. I think we are getting more protective though, and the play does touch on a few of those ideas. When Facebook arrived, I remember just accepting anything and anyone. My Facebook is still remnant of those times.
We found the concept intriguing and we are looking forward to the final result.
‘SELF’ will premiere in Shanghai on May 22 at Strictly Designers.
Tickets: 200 RMB (presale) – call: +86 18202164553 / e-mail: [email protected] / pick up at Kommune, 210 Taikang road, No.7 Room 5.
Dates: May 22 – June 8 (Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday)
Starts at 8.00 p.m.
Strictly Designers – 55A Fuxing Rd, Near Zhong Shan Nan Road, Near Cool Docks.
By Andreea Dragut
[Photos via Michael Beets]