As Internet celebrities – the social influencers of the 21st century – attract followers and reap the rewards, what personal price do they pay to maintain their constant online presence and power?
“The Influence of iPoppy,” the second live, virtual offering of Trenton’s Open Book Theatre Company, takes a look at how being an internet celebrity affects the online self-made stars, as they seek to impress their followers and extend their reach, sometimes paying a personal price to do so.
Each one-on-one performance is 10 minutes long, with the performer able to hear the online attendee’s laughter, sighs and applause.
OBTC has planned a six-show season of one-to-one virtual theater offerings, in addition to other programing.
Artistic director Krista Schafer Ewbank said that while some audience members are hesitant at first, they often discover that they like the short virtual theater offerings once they have experienced it.
“Our audience members have told us that they’ve laughed, cried and felt connected in a way they haven’t during these strange times,” she said. “The arts have always responded to what’s happening in the world, and we are excited to be a part of that.”
Ewbank said it’s gratifying to produce meaningful theatrical experiences within the unique parameters imposed by the pandemic.
“Art should always speak to us where we are, and right now, we’re online,” she said.
“The Influence of iPoppy,” written by New York City playwright M.X. Sotero, was directed by Topher Payne, who worked with OBTC prior to his move to NYC.
Payne said working with OBTC again is a joy.
“A true silver-lining to being in my tiny one-bedroom apartment in Queens almost 24/7 during the pandemic has been to play with the Open Book family again,” he said.
Actress Marcela Garzaro, a performing arts graduate student at Wayne State University, said it has been a unique experience performing live theater through a media usually reserved for television and movies, in a format developed for business meetings.
“It’s innovative to use what Zoom and other platforms have to offer to make the experience as approachable and seamless as possible,” she said. “Doing my masters and rehearsals through Zoom is tough, but it has been great to find new ways to get into the space and get my energy up.”
Aside from worrying about Zoom transmission issues, Garzaro said keeping her energy high is a challenge, even though she connected to the character, a social media influencer, easily.
“We have all met a version of her,” she said. “I have had my own issues with social media, and while I am not an influencer myself, the addiction is all too real. I feel like she goes through a bit of that, but I also believes she loves it, and, like a phoenix at the end, she rebrands right in front of her fans’ eyes.”
Payne said directing the show has been a lifeline during a challenging time.
“Taking our live experience and translating it to a Zoom world has been a fun and unique experience,” he said. “Also, getting to work with a playwright on a brand-new work is always a unique and exciting experience.”
Payne said that even though audiences are seeing a live performance through their computer screen, he hopes the human connection of people sharing stories with each other, as they struggle with universal emotions, reminds viewers of their common humanity.
He said he also learned that social media celebrities have a demanding job, and surrender their privacy to the relentless lens of the media.
“Your life is your job, as you document it multiple times every day,” he said. “The big question of what is real, and what is fake, and where those lines blur, is valid for all Instagram celebrities and even for most of us who are active on social media,” Payne said.
He said it was refreshing to work with OBTC again.
“I had moved away from Michigan a few years back, and being part of the Open Book family was something I missed,” he said.
Payne reminds people to connect with the arts, despite the pandemic.
“The darker times get, the more we need the arts,” he said.
Sotero said creating art in the form of a 10-minute script was a new challenge for him, but one he enjoyed.
“Keeping it in the current attention span of social media personalities certainly helped me,” he said. “I hope this piece feels relevant to our times, and reveals the underlying truth of media personae and their relentless pursuit of fame, regardless of ethics.”
He said as he studied different internet influencers, he saw the seamier side of the motivation and vulnerability of people who use social media to feed their egos.
“This world is so unknown to us, and these instant celebrities and influencers are real people who are just reaching out to the world in the hope that they can be relevant and find affirmation.”
“The Influence of iPoppy” runs now through Oct. 26, Monday through Thursday nights. Tickets are $20, with discounts for season ticket holders.
For more information, call 734-288-7753 or go to openbooktc.com.