So, I decided to go into this play blind. No previous research, I didn’t watch any trailers, I just showed up for the show. And what a surprise it was! A politically focused, media infused, continuous stream of information that both baffled and intrigued me.
To give a little bit of context, the show concentrated around one man, the show’s creator, telling us the stories of how several different people across the world were influenced by online media to join ISIS. He narrated the entire time, and was joined on stage by one other person who never spoke or interacted with the audience at all. I’m not sure exactly what the other man’s role was, but the show definitely centered on the narrator as he told several individual’s stories and gave information on the rise of movements like ISIS through media and websites online.
The first aspect I need to discuss is the use of a WhatsApp group chat as a supplement to what was going on onstage. Everyone who was in the audience had a chance to download the app and was added to the group, so as to receive messages from the show itself, interact with other audience members, and show how one aspect of social media can be used to spread political ideologies. This was a good idea in theory, and I liked the uniqueness it added to the show. However, there was a lot of white noise, aka people just adding random messages on the app, that kept distracting me from what was actually happening on stage. I was very torn between wanting to check the messages and wanting to pay attention to the show, since it was very fast-paced. However, the app did do its job of helping to understand messaging’s media impact, and it was cool how sometimes the narrator could send out messages or photos instead of speaking to the audience to get his message across. This was especially impactful when the images conveyed a lot more looking at them on your own screen than on a big screen on stage. It meant you were not influenced by the reactions of the people around you, and you could privately interact with the messages and pictures the way you wanted to. I also liked how the messaging app gave the audience a way to join the show that was less chaotic than shouting out loud. Sometimes there were questions posed to the audience that could be answered in the app, and people were much more honest than they might have been if they were saying the answers out loud.
Another aspect of the show that I did enjoy was the use of several types of media to display different stories that were concurrent. The narrator used an old fashioned microphone for two of the stories (which were made distinct by lighting), he sat in a chair on the opposite side of the stage for another, he streamed a video of himself speaking onto a big screen for another, and stood center stage and broke the fourth wall for the last one. He also used the big screen to display pictures and videos that helped supplement whatever he was discussing in that moment. I think a lot of shows do not take advantage of the technology we have today, and the way this show used it made it certainly an new experience.
There were a few things about the show I did not like. First, the main actor had a very strong accent (I know, not his fault) and he spoke very fast, too fast for me to sometimes understand what he was trying to say. I also have only bare knowledge of the terrorist organizations in the Middle East and their timeline of attacks, so when he assumed a lot of this information was common knowledge, I got lost pretty easily. It was also difficult to keep all of the different stories straight, or to understand how they were related, so that definitely made the show less enjoyable for me.
Overall, I would not recommend this show, but I also thought it was a cool media experience if you are very interested or invested in Middle Eastern politics. But I do commend the narrator for talking almost constantly for an hour without missing a beat!