Writing and directing a full length play in Cambridge would seem to many an impossibly daunting task. I catch up with Jonny Shamir, who is on the brink of realising this feat for the second time, with his social media focused play, The Connection.
“I’ve been involved with Cambridge theatre, throughout my time here,” says Jonny when I ask him about his motivations for writing, “but I can tell you there is no greater satisfaction than seeing something that you created produced and performed on stage.” Now in his final year at Cambridge, Jonny concedes that The Connection may be his last mark on the Cambridge theatre scene, and so it made sense, he says, to do something original.
The road to performance was not without its barriers. “More than anything, writing a play is really hard and takes a really, really long time!” Jonny tells me. This, in part, influenced his decision to pitch his show to a smaller theatrical society. “I was able to go to them with what I had at the time, and promise redrafting and improvements. That’s just something places like the ADC wouldn’t be interested in for obvious reasons – I don’t blame them!” Nonetheless, Jonny feels this opportunity to revise and hone his creative work has allowed the play to become even more exciting.
The Connection takes the performative aspects of social media and transposes them into the theatrical environment. “It’s something I’ve had as an idea for a long time” Jonny enthuses, “I wanted to engage with this quite damaging projection of the ‘perfect self’ we see on Facebook or Instagram for example, and to explore the way in which this effects our sense of reality.” Jonny took much of his inspiration for the show from Erving Goffman’s theory of the self as something performed. The play itself reflects on how social media allows these ideas to be exacerbated. “The production is constructed in such a way that when characters disconnect from social media, this changes even the insights the audience have into them” says Jonny.
The world of social media is something that has infiltrated other art mediums, but is difficult to adapt for the stage. Many modern TV dramas have text messages flash up on screen throughout the action, something which hasn’t really been explored to the same extent in theatre as yet.
As well as the name of the play, The Connection is the social media platform Jonny’s characters interact with. “We’ve got someone creating a webface for this fictitious form of Facebook, which will be projected during the performance and interwoven into the traditional theatrical techniques of the production” Jonny explains. This is an ambitious project. The team are appealing for Facebook users to allow them to incorporate old social media statuses into the production to give it an authentic feel. Though this is something I will personally pass on for fear of a resurrection of 2009 odes to my favourite X-factor contestants, the appeal is a testament to the production team’s commitment to creating a believable cyber world for their actors to inhabit.
Lighting will also be paramount in the production, Jonny tells me. “We want to give the sense that as characters become more engaged in the computerised world, true reality becomes less accessible to them, so we’ve played around with lights to give a sense of gradually dissipating space.” The small cast will also employ multi-role in an effort to destabilise a fixed idea of identity. “In Western culture particularly we have this notion of being ‘true to oneself. But we’re questioning whether identity is not something more fluid, particularly when the internet allows you to so obviously construct an outward persona."
Jonny’s directorial decisions seem so rich and well-defined that I ask him whether writing and directing is a combination of roles which is a necessity to a production such as this. “In many respects I am quite possessive over what I’ve written,” he laughs, “but that’s not to say it wouldn’t be very exciting and healthy to see the direction someone else might take it in.” In the end, however, Jonny decided that the performative themes of social media he wanted to discuss in the work were so closely intertwined with the way in which the play itself was performed that directing seemed like an obvious decision. “I’m not self-important enough to claim we’re doing something that changes the landscape of Cambridge theatre or anything,” he jokes, “it’s just that social media is something so prominent in everyone’s lives, it’s really interesting to put it onstage and ask some questions about how it actually affects us all.”
The Connection plays at the Robinson College Auditorium Wednesday 9th – Friday 11th November at 7:30pm.