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‘The music in the show should feel like diving headfirst into the internet’: Francesca Forristal & Jordan Paul Clarke on their new musical Public Domain

The duo spoke to Emma Clarendon about their new musical Public Domain being live streamed from the Southwark Playhouse on 15 and 16 January 2021.

Could you explain a bit more about what Public Domain is about? 
Think, a musical Black Mirror about The Social Dilemma. But at an electronica rave, in a teenager’s bedroom. That’s Public Domain.

It’s about our relationship to being online, and searching for authentic forms of communication in a medium which so often stops that being possible. Who owns our voices online? How authentic can those voices be? And what is it about total ‘authenticity’ that is so alluring?

We’re using the words of people who make financial profit from the internet like Zuckerberg, or social media influencers, as well as the ‘products’ – normal people like you or me – who put so much of our lives onto the public domain. We’re talking content monitoring, data privacy ethics, loneliness, mental health… exclusively using voices we’ve found online. This show is entirely verbatim. That means every word in the show (every song lyric, every line) is taken from YouTube videos, real tweets, or instagram posts.

It sounds like an interesting concept for a musical. How did you come up with the idea?
Adam Lenson asked us if we’d do ‘NEWSFEED’ – a night of songs created in response to that week’s news – at the Southwark Playhouse. Serendipitously, we’d literally just been raving about a video that had popped up on our Twitter feed: Congresswoman Katie Porter totally rinsing Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook’s atrocious treatment of their workers and data privacy ethics. We wanted to write something about it that would really emphasise the ‘bad-ass take down’ vibe that we got from watching the original video. So we spent a rather frantic 48 hours creating this dark, bassy, synthy lil number – it became this Hamilton-esque ‘Cabinet Battle’ using Katie Porter and Mark Zuckerberg’s actual words.

It went down a storm – we’d theatricalised the equivalent of meme-autotuning, and the folk that watched were as buzzed as we were. Pretty soon, we’d fallen down a 12 month YouTube hole that brought us new characters and perspectives… musical themes began to resonate across the content we were finding. The content we found told us what we needed to write next, and here we are a year later with a full musical about responsibility and authenticity online.

How have you found the experience of creating a new musical under these circumstances?
There we were, writing a piece about searching for authentic forms of connection online. Next thing we knew, the internet was the only option you had.

It’s not in the show anymore, but right at the beginning of lockdown we had a whole song about Zoom meetings made entirely out of tweets from the first week of lockdown. We started this show just before COVID-19 and lockdowns were even a thing; we were booked to perform it at the Edinburgh fringe and everything. Madness.

Six months on, we have an incredibly different show. There are lyrics and lines in the show taken from events as recent as two weeks ago. It’s been exhilarating writing something that is – through its form, rather than Covid-specific content itself – responding to this moment in time. Working at a distance and entirely online has been… nigh on impossible? But we love a challenge, and bizarrely, it’s been a real gift for helping us engage with the themes of the show.

How would you describe the show musically? Take everything you love about modern musical theatre cast recordings, put them in the washing machine with the brooding spotify playlists of a 16 year old youtuber (electropop, EDM, trap), condition with a dash of silicon-valley electronica and out comes this show. The music in the show should feel like diving headfirst into the internet, with digital loops and fragmented bops coming at you with every scroll.

What can audiences expect? We’re serving up all the most addictive elements of the internet with a side of sick beats. It’s a pop-concert youtube hole, with the two of us playing everyone you might find online: Facebook administrators, teenagers on twitter, insta-vloggers, members of congress, that happy guy on the Tik-Tok ads, and corporate tech leaders. The show follows two teenage influencers; Millie (sporty spice, health guru, buddha bowls – millennial) and Z (GCSEs, existential dread, swag – generation Z), as well as giving you exclusive ‘footage’ of inside Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan’s family home. You’re gonna get their honest, true, authentic selves… but online… with some serious bass, obvs. Authentic, right?

How and when can people experience the show? This is the show’s first outing, and what better way to watch a show about the internet… than on the internet? We’ll be performing it live, from the Southwark Playhouse in London, on the 11th and 12th of December at 7:45pm, with a 2:45pm matinee on Saturday 12th. This show can only be watched on your devices at home, which makes the show accessible to anyone in the world; one hundred percent live, beamed in from the theatre which is being set up like a pop-up TV studio.

By Emma Clarendon

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from News, Reviews and Features – My Theatre Mates

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