Boulder Ensemble Theatre’s ‘P3M5’ explores privacy in the digital age
Use of pure cinema a new step for troupe
Plugging into a global network means giving up personal privacy to a degree that goes much deeper than oversharing on Facebook.
The digital age offers marvels of convenience and interconnectedness, from the ability to instantly link up with friends and family on the other side of the world to the luxury of paying off the phone bill one’s living room. These perks carry a pervasive price, one that obliterates any conventional notions of anonymity and autonomy. In the age of Wikileaks, professional hackers and Edward Snowden, and in the era of the Equifax hack and the repeal of net neutrality, it seems that no one’s information is truly safe.
“I don’t think we know how to negotiate all of the potential that technology offers us. I also think that we’re only beginning to realize all the ways how our information can be used,” said Heather Beasley, director of the iteration of “P3M5” set to run Jan. 10-21 at the Dairy’s Boedecker Theatre. “People really don’t realize how their personal data may be used by companies, governments, by other people for good or bad.” She added, “That’s a common theme running through these shows.”
Launched by the Goethe-Institut in Washington, D.C., the “P3M5” production is the result of a global commission, one that asked 15 theater companies across the world to submit original plays and short, companion films all based on a simple question: “What does privacy mean to you in the digital age?” The result is a rapid-fire collection of narratives that covers a wealth of issues and themes, topics that range from an American adolescent’s oversharing on Instagram to a Muslim woman who’s been barred from wearing a hijab by a government mandate.
The show is scheduled for an international run in 2018, and BETC is the only Colorado troupe set to tackle the show this year.
“The National New Play Network approached us as a company that they knew was interested in new work,” Beasley said. “These pieces talk about internet privacy, library records, information about our purchases, religious freedom. Some of the European films also talk about the past and how personal information was misused by governments. It’s very wide and varied.”
In a certain sense, the ambitious production is an ideal fit for BETC, a company that’s made premiering new works by contemporary playwrights a fundamental part of its creative mission. In another sense, the film component of “P3M5” is a novel challenge for a company rooted squarely in live theater.
While the company has experimented with projections and other effects since moving back into the recently refurbished Dairy Arts Center last year, the incorporation of pure cinema is a new step. The company will stage the “P3M5” theatrical works on the small stage in front of the Boedecker screen in between the production’s short films.
“From an artistic perspective, it’s always fun to explore other ways to plumb different mediums. We’ve done some more shows with projections since we moved in. This will be another foray into the world of film,” said BETC producing artistic director and co-founder Stephen Weitz. “It’s a great, interdisciplinary cross-medium project that’s going to engage people on both sides, from the world of theater and the world of cinema.”
Beasley’s challenge as a director will be to seamlessly meld the live and the filmed components in a cohesive way. She’ll also wrestle with the rapid-fire nature of the piece, a conglomeration of perspectives and problems that covers a gamut of themes.
“To be able to integrate plays and films in the same space — that’s something that we don’t typically do,” Beasley said. “I think it’s going to be a challenge to focus the audience’s attention between what’s live and what’s happening on screen, because the plays really do come from so many perspectives — they really contrast.”
Boulder audiences may more readily relate to a story about the perils of a teenager offering too much personal information on social media than to European-based narratives that feature modern tales of religious suppression and government overreach, Beasley said. Combined with the back-and-forth between film and theater, the result may be unexpected for some.
That’s one of the reasons each performance will include an in-depth talk-back, where actors and audience members will have an opportunity to more fully explore issues hinted at in the five-minute films and theatrical vignettes.
Even so, the rapid dynamic of the show mirrors the pace of information and storytelling in the age of social media and viral videos. The collection of narratives is designed to echo the modern state of information sharing, even as it wrestles with its darker side. Beasley said she’s especially interested to see how the format resonates during a special performance at Boulder Prep High School, where the audience will consist of those raised with a liberal take on information-sharing.
“Their world has never really been without it. They’re very comfortable with giving out information without thinking of the potential ramifications,” she said. “I think it’s important to hear what they have to say. I’m excited to listen to them.”
If you go
What: The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company and Dairy Arts Center’s production of “The Plurality of Privacy Project in Five Minute Plays,” or “P3M5”
When: Jan. 11-Jan. 21
Where: Boedecker Theatre at the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder
Cost: Tickets start at $17.50; get them at betc.org/P3M5
More info: thedairy.org