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Annika Schneider / M00594023

Independent Project: :INSIDE - Reflective Essay

Master Theatre Arts / THE 4200: Independent Project

Module Tutor: Antje Diedrich

I confirm that this essay/project is entirely my own work and that all sources used in its preparation

and writing are properly acknowledged.


Independent Project: :Inside - Reflective Essay

Im going to reflect on the past 5 months, in which I conducted my independent project as a

part of my Master in Theatre Arts. Im going to analyse my project and its process and

articulate the project in detail, my research area and the outcomes I was aiming for.

Furthermore, the topic and content of my performance will be discussed. In addition, I will

reflectively analyse my process and the methods Ive used.

The project

The aim of this project was to commence a complex research of a determined aspect of

theatre arts, combining practice as research and academic context. I chose to investigate the

process of generating original material for a solo performance in which the author is also the

performer as well as devising an original solo performance. My research was mainly

practice-led and I decided to create a solo performance about cyberspace and social media

to frame my research.

Area of research

Having undertaken professional actor training and worked as an actress, I am accustomed to

developing a play or character based on an existing text as well as improvising short

sequences, but had not written or created any performance or theatre related text before

the start of this project. During my work placement, which was part of the Module THE4120:

Managing Practices, I had the chance to observe and interact with a group from London

Bubble, which started to develop a theatre play about primary schools. I was intrigued by

the creative process and with the insight I had been given, I felt the wish to expand my

knowledge and my experience in this field which I had just started to discover.
The solo-performance format has always interested me. I had seen countless solo-

performances and experienced breath-taking, immersive performances as well as confusing

and tedious ones. It is a special challenge for every actor and I always wanted to play one.

However, the decision to devise a solo performance, was not one I had made from the

beginning but became part of the project proposal quiet promptly, due to a lack of

reasonable opportunities. Nevertheless, I enjoyed experiencing this form of theatre

performance and I am aware of how much this decision guided my further research and

process.

Topic and content of the performance

No one can deny that cyberspace and social media is a contemporary topic in our current

society. The first social media website called Six Degrees was developed in 1997, which

allowed users to interact with each other online, for instance: they could send messages and

become friends. (Plus, 2017) This happened exactly two decades ago and occasionally sitting

in front of a huge, loud and slow machine to use social media has turned for many people

into holding a smartphone in one hand and staying connected to those platforms throughout

the day. This development evokes many questions and issues on its own, and has already

inspired theatre practitioners and artists to work with this topic, for example Damon Albarn,

Moira Buffini and Rufus Norris who created an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, setting

Wonderland in Cyberspace and making Alice an avatar in 2016 (Nationaltheatre.org.uk,

2017), or Amalia Ulman who created Excellence and Perfection, an online performance in

reaction to social media. (Newmuseum.org, 2017)

The idea of creating a performance about social media wasnt straight forward. It started off

with a simple fascination for the fact that people could create their own worlds in
cyberspace and then, if they want to, connect them with other people. I must have felt like

the first users of Second Life, an online game published in 2003 (Lindenlab.com, 2017)

which enables people to log into an online platform and create, apart from an avatar, a

whole new life. I thought of all the possibilities, all the creative thoughts that could be

shared. It didnt even take me a week into research to realise that next to the possibilities

are a huge number of disadvantages, threats and difficulties, which have come along with

the technological development during the past 20 years. I realised that from this first

thought of connecting the world, creating worlds beyond what people had been able to

imagine, we had come to a world where people stare at little screens, get lost in time and

space, develop addictive behaviour and take selfies. Mary Aiken published her book The

Cyber Effect in 2016 where she describes the major risks we are facing using the internet

nowadays. Her special concern about children and young adults, growing up with social

media and seemingly unlimited access to online data, and her insightful explanations about

what happens to the human psychology in cyberspace became the main source of my

inspiration.

"It's interesting to think about how humans have colonized the Internet and turned it from a

platform for sharing into a platform for self-promotion." (Aiken, 2016).

I decided to turn away from the idea of exploring the possibilities of the internet in the

future and settled on tackling real problems, which are occurring in our everyday life due to

the technological development. I started to ask myself: Can technology, which was created

to connect us, disconnect us from each other and can this technology even make us sick?

With this question in mind, I began a broad research about all the possible threats

cyberspace holds for its visitors. I investigated everything, from cyber-mobbing over revenge

porn to addiction, and even the emotional and physical relationship to technical devices and
robots became a potential topic of my project. I had reason to assume that cyberspace,

technology and social media in fact can cause a feeling of disconnection. Joinson argues that

a connection to other people made online is not at all the same as a connection made in the

real world. the notion of virtual communities has variously been criticised as a mirage, as

pseudo-communities that give the impression of community, but not the reality. (Joinson,

2003.) One could argue that this new form of community harbours the cause for more social

and psychological problems. It is impossible to hide from the debate concerned parents,

teachers and psychologists have started about this issue but there are other views, such as

danah boyds who writes:

Through social media teens reveal their hopes and dreams, struggles and challenges.

Technology makes the struggles youth face visible, but it neither creates nor prevents

harmful things from happening even if it can be a tool for both. It simply mirrors and

magnifies many aspects of everyday life, good and bad. (Boyd, 2014)

The important question is if making those struggles, stories, adventures and explorations

visible already changes them. It evoked the feeling of being constantly on display, of having

nowhere to hide and no chance to let mistakes be forgotten. It led me to the decision that

my character Alice would experience exactly this situation of having no control of what is

visible and what is not, as displayed in scene 7 when it becomes clear that she cant control

the on air sign which symbolises the connection to the social media community. I

eventually settled on the current average use of social media and the effect on our

behaviour and our psychological health as my main topic. The reason that I chose this topic

was that I personally felt close to it, I experienced the change in my own behaviour caused

by social media and I could clearly see it on the people in my social environment. Especially

the stories of Sarah Lynn Butler, a twelve-year-old girl, who had hung herself after
experiencing cyber-bullying on MySpace, as well as the teenager Danny Bowman who took

an overdose, trying to commit suicide and who had said in an interview, I was constantly in

search of taking the perfect selfie and when I realized I couldnt, I wanted to die. (Aiken,

2016) inspired my performance enormously. The thought of the MySpace page of Sarah

Lynn Butler and all those teenagers and adults who had become victims of the, sometimes

lawless-seeming, environment of the cyberspace, whose profiles are still online, still

providing their stories and documenting their last days, inspired later the text of my first

scene Why are you still here? Why are you still watching me? () I am not here anymore.

Methods of research

To investigate my research question, I engaged in classic academic research as well as

practice-led research, which in literature can be also found under the term practice as

research. The classic research about playwriting and development of performances was

incorporated in the practice-led research, while both informed each other.

Practice as research is a research method, which uses a practical approach to answer

research inquiries. In the 1990s the term Practice as Research became widely known in the

field of arts and performance and respected as an academic research method (Kershaw at

al., 2011) Anderson and OConnor summarise the development of practice as research in the

following statement:

The search to find more democratic, participatory and critically informed research

methodologies has been invigorated by arts-based research, which has emerged over the

past 30 years. Dixon and Senior, when advocating for arts-based research, suggest the arts

in general teach us to see, to feel and indeed to know. What we are proposing is that the
means through which arts function as illuminating vehicles may find expression and utility in

research activities as well as in the arts themselves. (Anderson and OConnor, 2015)

The practice I used to examine the question how to generate original material for a solo

performance was to create a solo performance without using anything that already exists.

My creative process began with the collection of material. I read about cyberspace, social

media, modern technology and social behaviour online, I wrote down everything that came

to my mind, which was related to the topic, examined my own environment, remembered

my own experience with the topic and collected ideas of how some concepts and structures

of cyberspace and social media could translate into a theatrical context. In reaction to the

research I had undergone, I decided to target 5 different topics related to cyberspace. To

give myself a framework I decided to aim for a twenty minute performance, this was mainly

due to the limited time I had to develop the performance. Because of the diversity of the

topics I had chosen, I picked the form of 5 monologues, which would be put together as a

collage under the broader theme cyberspace. At the same time, I developed an attraction

to adapting ideas from the famous novel Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol. By that time,

I thought I would help myself by giving me not only a form and a topic but also an existing

story and concept. Unfortunately, I discovered that my method didnt work out. I had

started to write the first scenes for the script but I couldnt work further at one point, and I

couldnt explain why. By now it seems clear that combining a classic narration, as it is used in

Alice in Wonderland with the concept of a collage of diverse monologues naturally

couldnt work, or maybe could work but didnt, in the form I was using it. I decided to

continue with a classic narration but stuck to the five topics I had chosen. I started a new

script, this time focusing more on my character Alice and using the methods of character

development I had learned to practice during my actor training. I constantly asked Where is
Alice? What does she do? What does she want? What happens to her? How does she react?

How does this change her? What are her aims and what are the obstacles? Role model and

inspiration for this method was Michael Shurtleff and his book Audition in which he

promotes twelve guideposts to develop a character (Shurtleff, 1980). I was encouraged by

Michael Wrights statement that the methods writers use to develop a script, are very

similar to the methods used by actors (Wright, 2010), therefore I confidently continued using

my knowledge about theatre gained through acting. This caused me to take my writings in

an early stage into the studio to try if they worked and often performing the text informed

the writing process. It was much easier for me, for example, to find the intention of the

character when I was playing her instead of thinking about her as the author of her story.

Finding her intention and within her aims and fears guided me further through the story.

With the wish to incorporate five topics into a twenty minute performance with a classic

form of narration, I had given myself a difficult task and struggled with contextualising a plot.

This delayed the finalizing of the script more than I had expected. Another problem I

encountered was that I thought about plot and concept simultaneously until I read the plot

is just the basic story and it must be coherent, no matter the subject of style, from start to

finish (Wright, 2010). It took this simple sentence for me to admit that I hadnt developed a

coherent story. From this point onwards, every time I changed the script, I wrote a pitch or a

plot line in a few sentences to ensure I was staying on track and my story line still made

sense. Gaining more insight and experience and committing to the rules I set myself

throughout the process I grew more confident in writing and changed, edited and adjusted

the last drafts, compared to the beginning of the process, in a short amount of time. I had

lost time during the writing process but I saved just as much time in the devising process.

Wright stresses in his book how important it is to think theatrically and how difficult this can
be for unexperienced writers. (Wright, 2010) Starting into the writing process with the

knowledge of an actor and with the awareness that I would be the one to devise and

perform the piece, I had thought about how to translate parts of the content and research

through movements, stage design, positions and other theatrical tools throughout the

process. I therefore had an easy start with the devising process but soon encountered new

obstacles through feedback. Receiving feedback, turned out to be absolutely crucial in the

process of developing the performance. Having spent months with the material, I was

unable to look at it through the eyes of an unbiased potential audience member. Through

the feedback I received by sharing my work in progress, I developed the performance further

and cleared uncertainties. Part of my performance and its narration was the lighting which I

used to display the change in time and the use of the On Air sign which I developed to

demonstrate online and offline. Both, stage design and lighting, are very basic and if I would

develop the performance further I would seek support from more experienced practitioners

in these fields. Through the final feedback I received after my performance on the day of the

assessment, I not only discovered that my performance works in the respect that the issues

Im addressing are understood, that the way Im communicating resonates with my

audience, especially with my main target group of young adults who have experienced social

media themselves, but also enabled me to reflect on my process and on my relationship to

the text and the character differently. Two qualities of my performances I had not thought

about up to this point. One was the comedic quality of some scenes and the other was that

my character seemed to be truthful enough to allow the audience to identify themselves

with her and therefore reflect on their own behaviour. I think this quality is due to the

method I used: Alice, the character, was the only part of the performance that was

consistent throughout the process. As an actress, it was easy for me to picture a young girl,
experiencing and getting lost in cyber space, so I created the character long before I created

the story, which may have caused the complexity of it. I remember the German author Klaus

Fehling saying in a workshop he held in 2013 that the best way to write a story is to make up

a character and let them tell the story (Klaus Fehling: Kreatives Schreiben (Creative Writing),

2013) and thats basically what I did.

Reflecting on the process and the outcome I can say the project was successful because I

developed and performed a solo-performance, generated original material and developed

my own methodology using acting, character development and an overall playful approach.
Bibliography

Aiken, M. (2016). Cyber effect. [Place of publication not identified]: John Murray Publishers

Lt, p.176.

Anderson, M. and OConnor, P. (2015). Research. London: Bloomsbury, p.22

Joinson, A. (2003.). Understanding the psychology of Internet behaviour. Basingstoke [u.a.]:

Palgrave Macmillan, p.143.

Kershaw, B. (2015). Research methods in theatre and performance. Edinburgh: Edinburgh

University Press, p.63.

Klaus Fehling: Kreatives Schreiben (Creative Writing), 2013

Lindenlab.com. (2017). About Linden Lab | Linden Lab. [online] Available at:

https://www.lindenlab.com/about# [Accessed 3 Oct. 2017].

Nationaltheatre.org.uk. (2017). wonder.land | National Theatre. [online] Available at:

https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/wonderland [Accessed 4 Oct. 2017].

Newmuseum.org. (2017). Amalia Ulman: Excellences & Perfections. [online] Available at:

http://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/amalia-ulman-excellences-perfections

[Accessed 4 Oct. 2017].

Plus, G. (2017). Complete History of Social Media: Then And Now. [online] Small Business

Trends. Available at: https://smallbiztrends.com/2013/05/the-complete-history-of-social-

media-infographic.html [Accessed 3 Oct. 2017].

Shurtleff, M. (1980). Audition. New York: Bantam.

Wright, M. (2010). Playwriting in process. Newburyport, MA: Focus Pub./R. Pullins Co.