Monday, June 27, 2022

#IAMTHECHEESE explores the reality of living in a digitally connected world

Eastern Front Theatre and Halifax Theatre for Young People present Josh MacDonald's stage adaptation of Robert Cormier's 1977 novel as part of this year's Stages Theatre Festival.

Eastern Front Theatre and Halifax Theatre for Young People have joined forces to present the live premiere of Josh MacDonald’s award-winning #IAMTHECHEESE as part of this year’s Stages Theatre Festival.

Our data is a digital proxy for ourselves and I wanted it to be a play about being a little more vigilant, a little more mindful of what we volunteer online.

Based on Robert Cormier’s 1977 novel, this will mark the first live production of MacDonald’s stage adaptation after a false start due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“We were poised to share this show with audiences 12 to 18 months ago and like every other theatre in the world we had our plans change because of the pandemic,” says MacDonald.

As a result, the show pivoted to a virtual production, recording #IAMTHECHEESE for distribution to high schools across the province. The irony of offering a digital version of a play that deals very much with the online world was not lost on MacDonald.

“We were excited by the uptake we’ve had on it and the amount of engagement we have had with young people,” he says. “It’s been gratifying to see audiences compelled by the questions the play asks in the way I hoped they would be.”

Calling it “a hard-hitting play based on a hard-hitting book,” Macdonald describes Cormier’s source material as a combination of JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Watergate’s All The President’s Men. However, while MacDonald maintains the teen-angst and alienation explored in Salinger’s novel, he pairs it with a The Matrix-like sensibility in his techno-thriller stage adaptation.

“It’s not literally set in some sort of digital realm like The Matrix, but the play’s protagonist is surrounded by the technological tools we surround ourselves with every day now,” he says.

Through his adaptation, MacDonald explores our modern reality of living in a digitally connected world.

#IAMTHECHEESE is about a young boy named Adam who has undergone some type of traumatic event, which is the mystery that the play hangs on, and a therapist is trying to help coax out his memories of that trauma,” says MacDonald. “What I thought I could do with the book is make that thing about a fractured identity into a play about identity theft.”

When I read the novel I Am The Cheese, there was no such thing as the worldwide web. The character of Adam discovered different dangers hiding behind his everyday life. But in 2022, what’s more everyday than our online existence? Somebody in this play tells Adam, “when [platforms and sites] on the internet are free, it’s because we’re the product. And if we’re the product, then what are they using us for?” To me (even with no vampires or werewolves around), that’s kind of scary.. - an excerpt from playwright Josh MacDonald's program notes.
When I read the novel I Am The Cheese, there was no such thing as the world wide web. The character of Adam discovered different dangers hiding behind his everyday life. But in 2022, what’s more everyday than our online existence? – an excerpt from playwright Josh MacDonald’s program notes.
Careful not to give away too much of the story’s plot because, as a thriller, it relies heavily on revelations as it progresses, MacDonald describes his adaptation as a cautionary tale about big data and how we offer up so much of ourselves in the 21st century.

“We volunteer so much about ourselves in the digital realm to belong and feel some sense of community kinship to people who may not have our best interests at heart,” he says.

To help illustrate the role of the online world in our daily lives, MacDonald has injected a liberal use of technology into his play.

“On stage, it’s filmic in many ways because we use these big projection screens behind our protagonist Adam showing him texting with friends in high school, and all of his digital interactions are playing out in real-time for us,” he says.

And while MacDonald acknowledges that #IAMTHECHEESE is a paranoid, worst-case scenario about the dangers of our connected lives, he wanted to ensure he wasn’t a 50-year-old man “wagging his finger.”

“Our data is a digital proxy for ourselves and I wanted it to be a play about being a little more vigilant, a little more mindful of what we volunteer online,” he says.

#IAMTHECHEESE runs as part of this year’s Stages Theatre Festival with performances for audiences aged 12+ at the Alderney Landing Theatre (2 Ochterloney St, Dartmouth) from June 8 through June 12. Visit easternfronttheatre.com for tickets and information.

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