Review: ‘Digital Eye: Interactive Event Merging Theater Explores Privacy in the Digital Age’ at Blind Whino SW Arts Club

 Big Brother Really, Really Likes You

Your online identity does not belong to you. Digital Eye, a transatlantic theater project that was presented Monday and Tuesday, October 16-17, at Blind Whino SW Arts Club in DC, explores the implications of this fact, in our new, anything-goes, digital universe. Not only is Big Brother watching you, He knows all about you and can probably predict what you will do next. Or, from George Orwell, another way of looking at it:

Winston Smith: Does Big Brother exist?
O’Brien: Of course he exists.
Winston Smith: Does he exist like you or me?
O’Brien: You do not exist.
― George Orwell1984

Directed by representatives from Baltimore Center Stage, Forum Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, and Studio Theatre, and moderated by Georgetown University’s Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, this distinctive collaboration presented four performances at Blind Whino. It is part of the transatlantic theater project P3M5 (Plurality of Privacy in Five-Minute Plays), a partnership between European and American cultural organizations.

Photograph by Susan Green.

In co-operation with the Goethe-Institut Washington, U.S. and European theatres commissioned playwrights to write five-minute micro-plays exploring the question, “What does privacy mean to you in the digital age?” The production was moderated by Georgetown University’s Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics. All performances were cast with local actors.

At the start we were divided into groups, each with a separate leader. We went up and down stairs, traveled to different rooms, and even formed teams to participate in an online game show. Conceived and curated by Gillian Drake, this interactive event was not only excellent theater, but a chance to learn how our lives can be scrutinized, both here and in Europe.

Recondition This! A Hacker Game Show, was perhaps the most successful presentation. Led by our genial host and Audience Experience Designer, Robert Bowen Smith, we all participated with enthusiasm, using our phones. The first section was called “Damage Assessment.” The question: has your data been compromised? We were shown how, in real time, to find out; my own data was, fortunately, secure. Others were not so lucky.

Some helpful information:

The following website will allow you to check if an account or email has been breached.

More useful tips: the following website allows you to analyze your online profile. The University of Cambridge Psychometrics Centre website also has many other personality and preference tests. An entertaining diversion if you are tired of looking at your Facebook feed!

Who Can You Trust? We were given several frightening scenarios involving lack of privacy, and asked to guess which was true—as in “Wait, wait, don’t tell me!” on NPR. The most terrifying: there is a Swedish company which is putting microchips in people’s brains. All the scenarios turned out to be…spoiler alert—true.

I’m Not Your Only Stalker. A married couple was called upon to play this game, after being warned that it might destroy their relationship. The wife was asked to select where she thinks her husband spends the most time during the day. She selected a yoga studio, a friend’s apartment, a bar, and Compass Coffee. Then she was asked to compare her results to the ones expected by the computer program. Fortunately for their marriage, she was almost exactly right—except that there was one extra bar!

Who’s Your Data Daddy? focused on how corporations misuse our digital data. One company does psychological profiles of minors. Amazon, as we all know, tracks your purchase history and then makes suggestions.

By the end we had all gotten to know one another, and our accounts, a little bit better. The Script Consultant for Recondition This! was Jennie Berman Eng, and the Director was Gillian Drake.

A related offering was the captivating film, Absolutely Online. Playwright Tereza Volánková created a live Facebook page, in which individual actors inadvertently give out personal information. Some of the shares: “You can go to hell, you devil!” “#bestbrunchever” “We need a mattress” and the ever popular “Unfollow” and “Unfriend”. (Sponsor: Embassy of the Czech Republic.)

Photograph by Susan Green.

The play Leitgeb by contemporary Austrian writer Clemens J. Setz, was directed by Michael Dove, Artistic Director of Forum Theatre. It concerns a young man (Kamau Mitchell) trying to sell his belongings at a garage sale. His grandfather’s picture and phone number are on one t-shirt. He tells a customer (Teresa Spencer) a touching story about how it helped his family find their forgetful relative in emergencies. Well played by both actors, it contains a twist which suggests how much we rely on trust in even the most casual interactions. (Sponsors: Forum Theatre and the Austrian Cultural Forum.)

@hotmigrants, by award-winning Spanish playwright Paco Bezerra, was directed by Gavin Witt, Associate Director & Director of Dramaturgy, Baltimore Center Stage. Luz Nicolas and Hannah Kelly play a mother and daughter who are at odds over a new Instagram featuring photos of attractive refugees. The script raised some thought-provoking issues, and the actors created a very true-to-life version of a mother-daughter quarrel. (Sponsors: Baltimore Center Stage and SPAIN arts & culture.)

Surveillance State, by Marioan Hosseini, a Kurdish writer living in Stockholm, involved a discussion between A and B. They are continually interrupted by C, who is attempting to deliver a crucial piece of news. Director was Michael Dove of Forum Theatre. The play was well acted by Alina Maldonado, Teresa Spencer, and Eric Messner. (Sponsors: Forum Theatre and the Embassy of Sweden.)

Making Plans was written by Felicia Zeller, a German dramatist and film producer. This diverting piece was directed by Samantha Wyer Bello, Director of Education at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Actors Eva Wilhelm, Alex Piper, and Victoria Reinsel talk to imaginary cameras instead of each other, in a sort of TV sitcom. The refrain: “I’ve heard so many great things about your country!” The actors were skillful, quick-thinking, and full of energy. (Sponsors: The Shakespeare Theatre Company and the Goethe-Institut.)

Photograph by Susan Green.

Project Deburkanisation by Rachida Lamrabet, focused on European privacy legislation. Lamrabet is an award-winning Belgian playwright and novelist of Moroccan descent. The Director was Derek Goldman, co-Founding Director of the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics. The play featured a young woman in a burka expressing her outrage at European laws which prohibit her from wearing it. She is starving, writing an e-mail to a former lover, and she fears to leave her home because she might be arrested. Felicia Curry gave a moving performance in this intense piece of theatre. (Sponsor: Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University.)

Empty Your Pockets was written by David Greig, a British playwright whose work has been commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and produced internationally. The director was Brian MacDevitt, Member, Studio Cabinet, of Studio Theatre. Gordon (Aaron Bliden) is being interviewed on behalf of the government by Laura (Erica Chamblee) because he appears to have a secret. The government does not permit this, and is trying to wrangle the last secret in the world from him. Both give fine performances in this thought-provoking piece. (Sponsors: Studio Theatre and the British Council).

The final presentation was a lively Town Hall discussion, featuring Alvaro Bedoya, Executive Director of the Center on Privacy & Technology, Georgetown Law, and Adjunct Professor of Law; and Michael Dove, Artistic Director of Forum Theatre. Derek Goldman moderated. Topics included the prejudice that novelty is always a good thing; how the changing nature of privacy affects the artist; and the mixed blessings of convenience.

Our faithful Tour Guides were Lindsey Barr, Manna-Symone Middlebrooks, and Robin Weiner.

Digital Eye @BlindWhino partners include the Austrian Cultural Forum, British Council, Embassy of the Czech Republic, Goethe-Institut Washington, Cultural Office of the Embassy of Spain, Embassy of Sweden, Baltimore Center Stage, Blind Whino SW Arts Club, Forum Theatre, The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University, Shakespeare Theatre, and Studio Theatre. Additional support for Digital Eye @BlindWhino comes from the European National Institutes of Culture Cluster Fund and Friends of the Goethe-Institut.

Future events are planned in Richmond, VA; and in Austin, TX. Performances, staged readings, and community forums will continue until June 2018. For more information, check the Goethe-Institut website.

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Sophia Howes
Sophia Howes has been a reviewer for DCTA since 2013 and a columnist since 2015. She has an extensive background in theater. Her play Southern Girl was performed at the Public Theater-NY, and two of her plays, Rosetta’s Eyes and Solace in Gondal, were produced at the Playwrights’ Horizons Studio Theatre. She studied with Curt Dempster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where her play Madonna was given a staged reading at the Octoberfest. Her one-acts Better Dresses and The Endless Sky, among others, were produced as part of Director Robert Moss’s Workshop-NY. She has directed The Tempest, at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheatre, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Monongalia Arts Center, both in Morgantown, WV. She studied Classics and English at Barnard and received her BFA with honors in Drama from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Seidman Award for playwriting. Her play Adamov was produced at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row-NY. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Lucille Lortel Award for playwriting. She studied with, among others, Michael Feingold, Len Jenkin, Lynne Alvarez, and Tina Howe.


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