Prue Clark Interrogates the Freedom and Pitfalls of Online Discourse

- What inspired the show?

Facebook. Emma was fed up with her news feed where people spouted opinions seemingly incessantly, usually in bite-sized overly-simplified ways.

Tim Etchells’ (UK’s Forced Entertainment) Sight is the Sense was also an important inspiration. Emma organised a fundraiser for the Philippine Typhoon Yolanda, or Haiyan and emailed Tim to see if she could perform one of his pieces. Incredibly, Tim said yes and sent her ‘Sight Is The Sense’. That too is a free-associating list of declarations – in which one man attempts to define everything in the universe. It gave Emma the idea for the form of We May Have to Choose.

- What are the central questions, themes, or conflicts that lies at the heart of the work for you? 

We’re really interrogating what it is to speak one’s mind. The story of the work is Emma’s attempt to untangle and articulate her personal worldview and we hope the work encourages each audience member to reflect on the validity of their own opinions, their relationship to truth, and what this might say about their world. Many of Emma’s opinions are demographically predictable (Emma describes herself as ‘a straight, mainstreamly alternative, ambitious, educated, well-traveled thirty-something with a fringe’), others are inherited and then there are some that are just down right surprising and contradictory!

As I inferred above, we are interested in the nature of social media where opinions are readily shared, but often anonymously. We May Have to Choose essentially puts the internet stream on stage to interrogate the freedoms and pitfalls of online discourse. In the context of the “information age” we ask whether the competing powers of fact and fantasy, reason and belief, and evidence and story might blend together. We’re also trying to understand the implications of becoming individual curators of our own news. 

- What have you learnt from developing the show? 

So much! We made the show this time 2 years ago and I think at the time I was really intimidated by the form. I felt like all my directing ‘tools’ or techniques didn’t really work in this context because there was no character or narrative arc or super-objectives or anything like that. I think it took us a while to trust the form. I still feel like I have to warn an audience as to what they should expect. I stress the ‘experimental’ and emphasise that what they are about to see is a list, not a play. Some audience members have said that they spent the first 15 minutes waiting for something to happen, or to change, but when they realised that it wasn’t going to they relaxed into that. I think that’s really cool. I’d like to think that its lack of a typical story arc changes an audience’s perception of time. We are wired to make meaning so I suspect that audience members find a kind of journey, or story, through it for themselves.

The work tends to become for many people a silent conversation between themselves and Emma, with every opinion voiced inviting audience members to ask themselves if they agree. So in one way it becomes a real dialogue and a very personal experience for each person.

- Have audience reactions differed as you’ve taken the show around the world?

It’s probably safe to say that our Melbourne audience probably agree with most of what Emma says whereas in Brisbane and maybe Perth that wasn’t necessarily the case. That’s a gross generalisation of course but that was probably one of the biggest differences. But it doesn’t matter to us whether the audience agree with her or not. Emma usually encourages the audience to talk to her afterwards and I think there’s probably something in her that really likes when people take issue with her opinions!

I didn’t travel to Edinburgh with the show but I know that people were really taken with Emma’s Australian accent. I guess an accent situates you much more so it was possibly considered as an Australian worldview.

- Finally, if you get the chance what are you looking forward to seeing at the Fringe Festival?

I’ve already booked for Wet Hot Beauties because I’ve got a friend in it and I know it will sell out. I’ll also see Silo’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt. Again. They’re doing a version at Melbourne’s Malthouse later in the year so it will be fun to compare. Eliza Sanders’ Castles and Michelle/Ryan’s “Ze”: Queer as Fuck! are also on my radar. I’m planning to have a proper look through the program tomorrow at the airport!

We May Have to Choose opens on Tue 21 Feb at The Basement.