Making art about social media is hard. That’s why when a performance featuring popular apps like Instagram and Snapchat rings true, it feels especially satisfying.
How do the versions of ourselves displayed on social media differ from our true experiences? What effect does all this have on our thoughts and anxieties? These are two questions What Should I Caption This, starring Sid Nesbit, Taryn Hanrahan and Wesley Giffen, addresses.
The show, written by Hanrahan and Nesbit, played at the Halifax Fringe festival from Sept. 7 to 10.
If I had to sum up the play in one word, it would be “relatable.” The play opens with a welcome from a narrating puppet (Nesbit) who introduces herself as “Social Media.” Okay, so maybe the talking puppet part isn’t relatable. But soon the puppet acquaints us with Zoey (Hanrahan) and Quinten (Giffen), two friends getting ready for a party.
The puppet calls it as it is. The night, she tells us, is abuzz with wine, empty stomachs and anxiety. I leaned forward in my seat. The scene was all too familiar.
Zoey and Quinten’s evening is far from perfect. It’s strained and anxious and you can just feel the sweat beading on the two of them. Zoey is anxious about the party and what’s to come. Quinten is infuriatingly indifferent.
“We are gonna have a good time,” Zoey declares, while snapping a selfie. “What should I caption this?”
With the drop of the title, the viewer is pulled back into the centre of the play.
It’s a question many of us find ourselves asking at one point or another in the age of social media. The question, though, is about more than just captions. We’re also asking, “How should I create this post so I am perceived exactly how I want to be?”
The idea of perception, and being aware of being perceived, has invited itself more and more into our lives as the number of social media platforms continue to grow. Not only do we have the ability to obsess over photos of ourselves for as long as our heart desires, but we also are constantly perceiving multitudes of other people on social media, and comparing ourselves to them.
At one point, a screen behind the actors flips through Zoey and Quinten’s Instagram profiles. As posts flash across the screen, the puppet tells us Zoey wants to be a granola girl but really she still gets cow’s milk in her eight dollar Starbucks order.
Quick lines like these are one of the strong points of the play. Lines that draw a chuckle out of the audience but also ring startlingly true, especially to a younger generation the play is aimed at.
What Should I Caption This gets into the nitty gritty of social media semantics, which modern films and TV shows rarely get right. It delves into things like the statement one makes when they unfollow an old friend, and the awkwardness of being the first to view someone’s story.
With the accidental “like” of an ex friend’s ancient post, our puppet morphs into someone else and minds begin to spiral. The lines between reality and imagination begin to blur, and we are shown what the double whammy of social media and normal tensions like friend breakups can do to a person.
Though only three actors graced the stage and the crowd was sparse, the room felt full and charged, a testament to the energy of the three actors. Set design and props were minimal, as expected for a small production. But even this was cheekily addressed. In one scene a completely dry Hanrahan is supposedly “soaking wet.” Briefly, a hand holding a spray bottle extends from behind the curtains and spritzes the actress. The room fills with laughter.
Perhaps the ending could have packed a bit more of a punch, with Hanrahan announcing tentatively, “That’s the end,” and inviting a round of hasty claps.
All in all, I left feeling satisfied, impressed and pondering the question of social media, as I often do. Because, good can come out of it. This play is a testament to that. But is it worth all of the turmoil?