Interactive theater can sometimes feel uncomfortable or awkward for the audience. Having actors embedded in the audience or directly asking you questions during the show can make some recoil. But with the anonymity of the internet and the common language of memes, the immersive experience of Flying V’s .DOCS was instead empowering and delightful.
.DOCS examines online fandom culture and how those communities can sometimes be toxic, hijacked, and/or co-opted for personal gain. The show’s creative team and performers create a space for the audience that is at times laugh-out-loud funny and at others prompts an examination of morality and the human cost of taking down the real monsters in our world.
The entire performance is accessed virtually through online chat on Discord (an instant messaging social platform commonly associated with gamers and nerd culture), as well as through a few e-mails, text messages, and Google Docs. E-mailed welcome documents and guidelines helped set expectations — I knew in advance that I’d need to set up an account on Discord, read a few one-pagers about some of the most famous kaiju (giant monsters), Godzilla and Mothra, and be ready (if desired) to create memes about these figures.
A few hours before the showtime, access to the production’s Discord server is open. Audience members can log on and view helpful channels like #welcome-and-rules and #resources, which guide the experience, and spend time familiarizing themselves with the platform. Another pre-populated channel provided some backstory: “GojiSkyLander” (deviser Tristan Willis) and “STOMPtimus Prime” (deviser Erik Whitworth) are the leaders of the “Kaiju Kickback” group, a community for fans of Japanese giant monster films; and they began this Discord server to host the group’s meme battle.
At showtime, a new channel appears on Discord and audience members click in to start the experience. .DOCS begins as a friendly group chat about kaiju, with the actors and audience members free to type in messages and role-play as members of the group. Goji and STOMP then break the audience into two groups, Team Mothra and Team Godzilla, to create memes that hype up their chosen creature.
As someone with only a passing familiarity and interest in giant monsters, I expected to be a lurker and observe the action. Instead, the vibrant and active group made me feel compelled to join in, googling “funny Godzilla memes” to share, reacting to other messages with show-specific custom emojis, and even creating a few memes of my own with the provided templates and meme-generator site.
The show takes a turn in the second act, with a twist in the story leading to a puzzle to solve. As an avid escape-room fan, I found this delightful. My group’s puzzle was set at the perfect level of complexity to solve with online strangers, with the team coming together effectively to find the solution.
As the audience tries to solve the mystery of who sent the puzzle, the show takes another big twist leading into the final act. This changed the nature of the group discussion, with audience members authentically role-playing and actively discussing the merits (and lack thereof) of the high-stakes situation. While the exact situation is imagined, the crux of it involves a real-world crisis facing a segment of the U.S. population, making it feel significant.
The performance ends with a beautiful moment between the two leads — a well-choreographed dance of real-time text edits and cursor movements in a Google Doc that smartly shows the evolution of each character. Even with no spoken dialogue or audio in the entire experience, you can feel the emotional impact through the speed of typing, the rate of deleting text, and the way the words are presented.
Overall, the show could have benefitted from a bit more character development, further fleshing out the relationship and history of the two main characters, and the reasons behind the big reveal in the final act. And while some of the moments of jumping from one medium to another were a bit hard to follow, even with these hiccups, .DOCS created an immersive world that was very true to internet subcultures — and that was fun to be a part of.
Audience participation was core to the experience and worked surprisingly well thanks to the planning and flexibility of the cast and creative team. They created an environment that made it safe and fun to engage. Adding to the safety of the experience, there was a channel available (aptly called “4th Wall”) for audience members to ask meta questions about the experience or to take a break with the show’s trauma-informed experience manager.
Those who haven’t used Discord before should be able to catch on pretty quickly, provided that they have experience with messaging programs (like Slack or Microsoft Teams) or sites that host fan communities (like Reddit). The encounter also counts on the audience having knowledge of memes and internet slang; you’d need that background to get one of my favorite lines thrown out by a fellow audience member, “The real kaiju was the memes we made along the way.”
Even after spending all day on my computer for work, .DOCS provided a fun, powerful, and highly immersive experience worth extending my screen time.
Running Time: One hour 40 minutes.
.DOCS plays online Sunday, June 26, 2022, at 2:30 pm; Monday, June 27, at 7:30 pm; and Wednesday, June 29, at 7:30 pm presented by Flying V. Purchase your ticket ($25) online at least 48 hours before a performance — you’ll then be emailed access instructions and show materials to enhance the live digital experience.
CAST AND CREATIVE TEAM
navi (he/they) – deviser, director, showrunner
Jonelle Walker (she/her) – deviser, writer
Tristan B Willis (they/them) – deviser, performer
Erik “Rikki” Whitworth (he/they) – deviser, performer
Deb Sivigny (she/her)- deviser, content designer
Kyra Corradin (she/her) – deviser, game designer
Mel Bieler (she/her)- deviser, framing designer
Rae Pendergrass (they/she) – operations manager
Emma Kaywin (they/them) – trauma-informed experience manager
Alika Codispoti (she/her) – associate producer, flying v
Katherine Offutt (she/her) – executive director, flying v