New play explores the intersection of online, news and mediaby Marianne Combs, Minnesota Public Radio
New production at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis is trying to bring the experience of being online to the stage.
"SadGrrl13" tells the tale of a missing girl, the journalists covering the story and the Internet vigilantes trying to bring online predators to justice.
St. Paul, Minn. — In "SadGrrl13," a young girl has disappeared, and the primary suspect is someone she was chatting with online. But after two weeks, and no news to report, the local TV journalists disagree on what to do next.
As the play continues, various traps are laid out on the Internet. An online vigilante poses as a 13-year-old girl in chat rooms to bring predators to justice. A journalist poses as an online predator in order to expose the vigilante.
Playwright Cory Hinkle says the play is filled with characters pretending to be something they aren't.
"I guess really what I'm trying to get at is the isolation of the Internet and the isolation of like our digital life now, and people get trapped in that and create their personalities entirely based on that," Hinkle said.
While "SadGrrl13" opens tomorrow night on stage, it already exists on MySpace, where the characters of the two journalists have been blogging about SadGrrl13s disappearance.
"I mean basically it kind of came out of how are we going to market this play? The play is about the online experience, everyone is online, we need to get this play online somehow," said Hinkle.
Hinkle says like many things on the web, you might not know whether SadGrrl13 is real or not.
Putting the play on MySpace was just one of the artistic team's techniques for bringing a story that takes place on the Web to life.
Jeremy Wilhelm directs "SadGrrl13," and he also designed the set. It consists of three white boxes. In one box is the TV newsroom, in another is the living room of the online vigilante. The room in the middle is empty and eerily lit. Wilhelm says it's the chat room, where people go when they're online.
"You start to realize that we're all in these weird virtual chat rooms, because we're all lying to each other," Wilhelm said. "We're all coming up with personas and multiple identities depending on where we are at any given moment. So the set for me has become a larger metaphor for everyone being in a kind of virtual room or virtual chat room in which our identity is mutable."
Wilhelm says directing the show has highlighted for him the similarities between theater and the media. He says they are both staged events, involving some truth and some lies.
"Yet, in theater we believe in the lie, we accept it as a lie, and we love the lie as a kind of way to get at the truth," explained Wilhelm. "Whereas I think once you step into media, and television media that relies on edited images, we're not embracing the lie anymore. I think we're manipulating the truth that ends up becoming a lie."
Wilhelm says "SadGrrl13" exposes the convoluted relationship between the news media and it's audience, and the assumptions they make about one another.
As for what happens to "SadGrrl13," and who she really is, playwright Cory Hinkle says don't count on getting all the answers by seeing the show.
"I think with a lot of my plays there's always something missing at the center of it. The play is called 'SadGrrl13,' and the most mysterious thing about the play is SadGrrl13. Because they never refer to her by her actual name. We find out a lot of information about her, but it's always a little fuzzy," said Hinkle.
"SadGrrl13" runs through June 28th at the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis. It's put on by the Workhaus Collective, a group of playwrights working together to stage their new works.
- All Things Considered, 06/13/2008, 5:23 p.m.