(Photo by Roberto Torres)
It may seem a tad counterintuitive at first, but when theater artist Jessica Creane set out to explore intimacy in the digital form, the first thing she did was to create a Shakespeare-inspired digital realm that you experience through your phone.
In R&J, a five-day gamified art experience, you’re paired up with a faceless partner of whom you know very little at first. Together, through a mobile site, you’ll slowly exchange thoughts, play mini-games and — hopefully — write weird sonnets together as you make your way through Shakespeare’s tragedy.
For Creane, who has performed onstage in Broadway and holds a master’s from Pig Iron School of Advanced Performance Training, the experience of R&J looks to explore the modern concept of intimacy and the power of making true connections with total strangers.
“I kept thinking about hurdles,” Creane, 31, said. “About how it can be scary to talk to other people and how a lot of us are more comfortable texting or whenever we have that gap of time to reply to things. It’s less scary than in real life where you have to react right away. I wanted to make something that would let people have the safety of digital communications but that also impacted real-life interactions.”
That said, the platform, built by New York-based developer Max Perlman, does allow you to play with a partner of your choosing. But playing with a stranger creates a more authentic experience, Creane said, and holds the potential to have intense intimate experiences.
"The game's rules are meant to be broken."
The R&J experience is one of 26 online art performances that make up Digital Fringe, the digital component of FringeArts’ yearly Fringe Festival, happening Sept. 6–23. Previous iterations of the experience were presented at Come Out and Play (NYC 2017) and the Bandwi/d/th International Online Togetherness Festival (2018).
Much like Shakespeare’s play, the game spans five days, but each day is quite different in terms of time commitment and actions. The first day is jam-packed with tasks and communication: You’d input thoughts and ideas, plus some general information about yourself, and slowly learn about your mysterious partner.
In the play, when Romeo and Juliet first meet they break into sonnet. So naturally, one of the mini games involves completing each others sentences to create awkwardly beautiful poetry. Creane sees this as an exercise in intimacy.
“I wanted to create an intimate experience where you could take a chance on a stranger,” Creane said. “And that made me think about how Romeo and Juliet committed to this wild relationship without knowing each other. They didn’t walk away from it.”
The digital play of sorts is also riffing on the construct of social media and online communications as bubbles encasing us all: self-created echo chambers where we hear what we want to, from whom we want to. But maybe people are eager to break free from that reality.
“I’d like us to break out of it, to meet different people or experience things with people we don’t know anything about,” Creane said. “I think people really want to connect with others who are different from them. It’s just really hard to do that.”
But what happens at the end of the five-day experience? Will you get to stay in contact with your partner? What if this is how you end up meeting your soulmate, only to never find them again after the play’s tragic finale? Creane declined to say if people are allowed to contact each other through the site, but instead left this reporter with a thought:
“Shakespeare took all kinds of liberties with his texts, and I’d like players to do that as well,” Creane said. “The game rules are meant to be broken.”-30-
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