Monday, 10 July 2017

Unshamed Dramaturgy: Belle Jones (BJ) and Allie Butler (AB) @ Edfringe 2017

Internet shaming explored in world premiere of Shame at this year’s Fringe

Tidy Carnage presents world premiere of mixed media show, Shame, beginning previews 3rd Aug at Edinburgh Festival Fringe

·        Digital cast includes Sarah Miele (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and Jenny Hulse (BBC’s River City)

·        Tidy Carnage are proud to support the #Unshamed Project at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe
Tidy Carnage in Association with Platform presents

Glasgow-based theatre company Tidy Carnage are set to tackle the contemporary phenomenon of internet shaming with their unique mixed-media show Shame at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.   

Shame follows the story of young mother, Vicky, whose daughter Keira goes missing after being shamed on social media.  Vicky waits alone for her daughter's return with only Keira’s online existence to turn to. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

BJ I read a newspaper article about a young woman who had been shamed on social media after an image of her performing a sex act went viral. This was before the term "revenge porn" had come into common parlance and I hadn't heard of anything like this happening yet. 

I was profoundly shocked by the idea of such public humiliation and violation of privacy that the story haunted me for a while. I was struck by how the internet can be so exposing and yet so anonymous at the same time and how people use the facelessness of their online presence to say and share things they might never say in real life. I was interested in how far people will go to have their say, what we chose to communicate about ourselves and our lives online and what is evident without us necessarily knowing about it. 

I was also very aware about how different my own and other thirty-somethings' lives were when we were teenagers compared to what a teenager today experiences. The idea of being in school when everyone has a smartphone and various social media accounts and everything constantly being recorded, shared and judged somewhere online is nightmarish to me. 

Putting myself into the shoes of any of my peers from school who became pregnant very young I tried to imagine how they would be managing this situation; with their now teenage children having potentially unknown online lives.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

BJ  I really believe that it is. Especially now that we spend so much time staring at screenslive performance is so much more visceral and direct. 

AB I think it can be yes, but I feel aware that a very small proportion of the population actually goes to see live performance. I think it’s increasingly our job as theatre makers to consider how we can make our work more accessible and link up to the online world that most people now inhabit. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

BJ I trained as an actor at the RSAMD (now RCS) and always wrote poetry and short stories but I started writing for performance during a particularly long rural tour of Germany doing Shakespeare. 

AB I put on plays with my cousins from when I was about six years old, so it was evidently in my blood from a young age! It was really when I moved to Glasgow and with the support of the Arches started creating new work, that I realised I wanted to ‘make’ performance rather than be a more traditional director. 

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

BJ I always imagined the social media element to be integral to the performance. The central character never actually appears on stage but is very much there through her social media presence. 

Although it is a solo piece in terms of bodies in the space, Shame really has an ensemble cast and we wanted to create a sense of community by blending film and social media imagery into the live performance. We had a really useful period of R&D on the project working with video designer Tim Reid to explore the possibilities in combining live text with video and we are excited to be working with him again on the show for the Fringe.

AB When Belle approached me about working on Shame, it was already a pretty fully formed script, but as she says, the biggest nut to crack was how to integrate video and social media content. One of the challenges has been how interactive the live and digital elements should be, and when the character on stage can ‘see’ the digital footage and content, and when she can’t. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

BJ The show is my most experimental work yet. The other plays I've written are pretty straight forward in comparison; perhaps playing with structure and narrative voice but in writing this script I needed to consider what the audience saw live, what was recorded and what the audience read as social media posts. 

AB Conversely this is probably one of my least experimental works, simply because it is a ‘proper’ play, and takes place in a relatively linear way in the world as we know it. The use of AV on such an integral scale was new to me though, and something I would certainly want to work with again. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

BJ There was no way of approaching this topic without investigating some the dark and ugly things that people are capable of saying and doing on the internet and the drama and conflict interwoven in this. But I also wanted to explore the positive things that come out of online communities and the sharing of personal stories with unknown online audiences.  I hope that our audiences at the Fringe will come away from the show reminded of how people can actually be brilliant: the internet can connect us in positive ways as well as negative ones. The real driving force behind Shame and the #Unshamed Project which grew out of the show, was to unpack the concept of shame with a focus on the question of how to get over it and move on. 

AB As a baseline obviously I hope they’ll experience an engaging and honest piece of storytelling, and an interesting blend of live and digital performance. More broadly, I hope that Shame encourages audiences to have conversations with themselves and others about how we treat our own digital presence and that of those around us. We’re all still very much finding our way in the realm of the internet and it feels like those boundaries shift all the time, so hopefully this show can act as a small agent for reflection and maybe even change within that context. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

BJ When Allie and I were first developing the idea for the show we considered a number of ways of addressing the audience position as watchers and commentators both during the live performance and online. We really wanted there to be some way for audience to interact with the story and contribute to it in their own way. The #Unshamed Project is an online campaign which one of the characters in the play initiates as a means of showing solidarity with a victim of "revenge porn", making the point that we all have excruciating things happen to us but it is possible to overcome them especially if well wishers are ready to "Unshame" them with their own shameful stories. We are running this campaign in reality too, in an attempt to dilute the intensity of the shame felt by victims of "revenge porn" and other malicious online shaming, by flooding the internet with positive messages. More information about the #Unshamed Project can be found at

The cast includes Belle Jones (Outlander, Rebus) as Vicky and Sarah Miele (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) as Kiera.  Jones, writer and performer of Shame says, ‘I knew from the beginning that although Keira had disappeared I wanted the audience to really know her.  That’s when I started discussion with Tidy Carnage about mixed media possibilities for the show’.  Jones performs live on stage alone supported by a digital cast. 

Keira (Miele) appears as part of the 16 strong digital cast that includes BBC River City’s Jenny Hulse.  The digital cast appear in a range of vlogs, YouTube videos, and mobile phone uploads as part of the mixed media aspect of the show.  Miele says, ‘The video fits brilliantly with the world Belle has created.  I’m really excited about seeing how it has evolved in Edinburgh’.

Tidy Carnage artistic director, Allie Butler says, ‘At Tidy Carnage we always try to push boundaries.   So how do we get a cast of 17 to tell a story at the Edinburgh Fringe?  We turned to the incredible Tim Reid (1984 West End, Broadway) who is recording all the digital footage for the Edinburgh run.  His input in the development stages was immeasurable and what we present in Edinburgh is going to be quite spectacular'. 

In addition to presenting Shame at the Fringe, Tidy Carnage are also supporting the #Unshamed Project.  The #Unshamed Project is an online initiative to support victims of online shaming by sharing videos of camaraderie and hope.  Neil John Gibson campaign manager says ‘The idea came directly from Belle’s show.  A character records a #Unshamed video to show Keira that even her closest family have faced humiliating incidents and that life moves on.   We decided to bring this idea to the real world.  The hope is that people record their stories and share them online with the hashtag #Unshamed and it becomes a repository of positive messages for people living with shame’.   The website explains the project, hosts the team's #Unshamed videos and offers links to help and support.  

With programmes like 13 Reasons Why (Netflix) and ITV’s Broadchurch shining a light on internet shaming, the public are growing more aware of this threat: 

 1 in 10 people have been threatened with "revenge porn"
·        60% of these threats become a reality
·        50% of revenge porn victims contemplate suicide
2017 also saw the introduction of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) act which criminalises the non-consensual sharing of intimate media.  

Jones says, ‘My impetus to write Shame came from seeing the online shaming of a teenage girl back in 2013.  I felt physically sick at the thought of what she must be going through. I wanted to create a platform for discussion about how we might be able to show solidarity and support to victims of this type of abuse.”

Shame will run from 3-28 Aug (not 14) at the Assembly George Square Studio 5 (Venue 17) at 16.15 daily.   Full listings details below.

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