During April & May this year I spent a lot of my time working on Such Tweet Sorrow – ‘a Twitterplay’ based (loosely) on Romeo & Juliet, produced by Mudlark and the Royal Shakespeare Company. It’s fair to say that it’s a project that ‘divided opinion’.
A number of arts critics dismissed it as an irritating and faddish attempt to sell Shakespeare to the yoof under false pretences, using ghastly illiterate txtspeak instead of ‘proper’ poetry. e.g. this from the Guardian.
People with perhaps a deeper understanding of online drama & storytelling faulted the production for being unsophisticated and stereotypical in its portrayal of teen culture – and I guess felt they’d have done a better job of designing something meaningful and moving if they’d been given the chance. e.g. Hannah Nicklin's thoughtful but essentially negative post.
On the other hand, there’s little doubt that STS did find a sizable audience that loved what we were doing, and over the 4.5 weeks there were several moments where I think we did achieve some level of grip and intensity that justified the whole experiment.
For example, the 'masked ball' where Romeo and Juliet met was very much enhanced by the sharing of a party playlist, the uploading of dozens of mask pics from the audience and a steady stream of very witty backchat using the #suchtweet hashtag.
The #savemercutio campaign (and the mercutio groupie scene in general) was another highlight. It’s interesting to note that online audience members will still try to influence events in a story even though they already know how the story goes and, in this case, know that the death of a character is inevitable.
Perhaps familiarity with the story is exactly what promotes the playfulness and participation? Everything is running on rails enough for people to feel safe about improvising and adding feedback without ultimately disrupting the fabric and flow of the production?
As a writer (working alongside the very talented Bethan Marlow btw), the most enjoyable task for me was to develop an ancillary character Jago who could provide a perspective on the story from a world outside and beyond the Twitter feeds of the six main characters. It felt like a useful way to be able to summarise what was happening from day to day without stepping out of the storyworld completely. It was my first time writing anything in Tumblr and I enjoyed it a lot.
I hadn’t quite banked on the character of Jago becoming a mystery in itself with audience members wanting to know whether he was meant to be Iago from Othello or Nick Carraway from the Great Gatsby or even Shakespeare himself (wtf?). I guess in some way he was all these things and none – just another teenage klepto with suppressed ambitions to be some kind of actor or writer and a lot of resentment and self-doubt fuelling his envy of the seemingly’ beautiful’ people he has to live with in the town.
As an experiment then, STS has left a lot of food for thought. I certainly think it was worth doing rather than not – if for nothing more than to make trouble and throw into relief what I see as the growing disconnection in the arts between the professional cultural cogniscenti and the hobbyist online audience.
I too have my reservations about the quality and value of this kind of work. But without the kind of active experimentation that STS embodies it’s difficult to know how we’re going to work out what ‘quality’ means or what values we’re meant to be sharing when it comes to online drama.
p.p.s. i was Mrs (*not* Ms) Capulet aswell