Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible not to have relationships through social media.
Second-year performance studies graduate student Naomi Bennett explores this idea in her play, “Being Present,” which debuted Wednesday and will conclude tonight.
The play looks at how relationships and platonic intimacy are built over various social media platforms. In fact, the show’s only two actors have never met. Gabrielle Vigueira is here in Baton Rouge as a University student, and Jason Jedrusiak lives in the Boston area.
During the first three weeks of rehearsals, the two communicated via Slack, a text-based chatroom. After those initial three weeks, they exchanged photos and began rehearsing via Skype. Jedrusiak performed via Skype and was projected on stage, allowing the duo to be shown together, but not physically.
The bulk of “Being Present” was developed from the crew’s personal narratives and experiences, which were brought out during rehearsal. The storyline delves into the experiences of the actors and the relationships they’ve created through social media spanning several years.
“It’s me saying, ‘This is my vision,’ but it filters through so many other people and creates something that I could never create by myself,” Bennett said.
Bennett’s work focuses on heavy themes, such as cancer and murder, but approaches it in a way that fosters community, health and safety. She focuses on devised theatre and social action but has dabbled in clowning and InterPlay — a style of theatre dance emphasizing stories people hold in their bodies through muscle memory.
“Being Present” is part of HopKins Black Box, a not-for-profit experimental theatre and classroom managed by the Performance Studies area within the Department of Communication Studies.
“This is our research laboratory,” Bennett said. “We do what’s called ‘embodied research’ with real-life bodies. We have ingrained performances of gender, culture ... and look at it in different ways through creating, devising, experimenting in Black Box.”
Long-distance collaborations and performances have been done for several decades. This performance style is an inexpensive way to keep theatre ensembles together.
“The amount of support from everyone in the department and my former colleagues and community speaks to the level of collaboration and connections,” Bennett said. “For people to be able to transcend time-zones and space and … for so many people to be so generous makes me feel really good about doing this type of work. That’s what it’s about.”
As director, Bennett said her goal was to take what everyone else gave and sculpt it into something wonderful.
“The thrill a lot of people get from performing, I get from being able to shape a performance, guide actors and create a piece of art that can have an effect on so many people,” Bennett said.
“Being Present” can be seen at 7:30 p.m. tonight at HopKins Black Box Theatre, located in 137 Coates Hall. The performance is free, but donations are accepted at the door. Seating is limited.