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Audience phones in addiction

Keri Glastonbury: Tantrum Youth Arts/Paper Cut, No One Cares About Your Cat

No-one Cares About Your Cat, Tantrum Theatre No-one Cares About Your Cat, Tantrum Theatre
photo Claire Albrecht
While waiting in the foyer for this performance to begin, audience members were handed a card with a mobile number on it and invited to SMS a cat photo for later use in the show. This is probably the first audience participation request I’ve ever embraced. But it wasn’t all warm fuzzy feelings about felines, as the performers (all of whom, I assume, haven’t known life without the internet) unpacked the increasingly precarious distinction between our on and off-line selves.

Our modern sense of self has, of course, never been free of technological mediation, nor has live theatre. Though new dramaturgical questions about bodies in space are raised by our digital present day, considering how often we are also partially absent. At one point the performers make confessions in a kind of social media hall of shame: someone wants to get red stop lights while driving so she can check Facebook, someone else goes to the bathroom when out with friends just to check his messages.

Though this was ostensibly ‘youth arts’ the mea culpa was likely felt by every audience member no matter what age: these are shared affects. As one performer searched frantically for a lost mobile phone I writhed, remembering the mis en abyme that similar moments have generated in me. When the phone was found, the screens behind the stage were suddenly flooded with message notifications and there was an audible Pavlovian sigh from the audience. It may seem wrong to use a dog metaphor, in a show about cats, but one punter did SMS a photo of his dog as a joke, which later came up on the promised cat photo feed. At that point I’m not sure if anyone else cared about my cat, but seeing Calliope (she is a foster cat, I didn’t name her) make a cameo was, I admit, personally gratifying and I poked my companion in excitement. Indeed, while a lot of this show felt a bit too obvious to me, there’s no denying that it was also operating on a subliminal level and our complicity was assured.

Physical and gestural engagement with social media is also something that live performance can bring to the dissection of social media mores. The performativity of the ‘selfie’ is balletic, and was contrasted with moments of unselfconscious and unbridled dancing. There is also the obligatory, but increasingly rare, performer who isn’t on Facebook. Overall the show doesn’t seek to demonise social media as much as look at the effects it has on the individual (using a UCLA Loneliness scale from the 1970s).

At one point the performers quote from a media article saying social media is more addictive than drugs and alcohol. No One Cares About Your Cat wasn’t about society’s external moral panics, but more about the users of social media themselves, and I’m struck by how apt the word ‘users’ now seems.

No-one Cares About Your Cat, Tantrum Theatre No-one Cares About Your Cat, Tantrum Theatre
photo Claire Albrecht
The eponymous cat of the show’s title is Spot Marion, a popular agony aunt fake Facebook profile that was set up by a Hunter woman after her cat died. The idea of random people from all over the world asking a cat for advice on-line evoked the purr-fect pathos and Spot Marion later made an appearance, with a performer wearing a striking cardboard mask designed by Fold Theory. This was a show that was largely narrated in Facebook status-update style, as the performers responded to statements from the loneliness scale such as “People are around me but not with me.” Incorporating live feeds and mobile phone usage (including the audience shining their torches) as part of the performance No One Cares About Your Cat was an atmospheric and haunting work about loneliness in the era of social media.

Paper Cut with Tantrum Youth Arts Theatre Makers, No One Cares About Your Cat, dramaturg David Williams, commissioned by Tantrum Youth Arts, Civic Playhouse, Newcastle, 16-19 Sept, ATYP, The Wharf, Sydney 30 Sept-3 Oct; Crack theatre Festival, Crack House, Newcastle 4 Oct

RealTime issue #129 Oct-Nov 2015 pg. 18

© Keri Glastonbury; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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