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In CERULEAN, Stanford Artists Create A Digital Play Exploring An Authentic Internet

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In CERULEAN, Stanford Artists Create A Digital Play Exploring An Authentic InternetAs theaters have shuttered their in-person spaces and universities have shifted to online classes for the immediate future, Stanford artists have created a live video performance about connecting over technology. Like Bard College's Mad Forest and The Public Theater's What Do We Need to Talk About, the performance explores the possibilities for theater on the web.

Mid-March, Stanford PhD student Kari Barclay was in the process of writing a play about tech culture, Cerulean, when news hit in the Bay about shelter-in-place. He decided to move forward with a digital production with nine Stanford undergraduates as a way to make sense of our moment.

"It's a play about being vulnerable on the internet," says Barclay, "and in the COVID era, people are trying to understand what it means to be there for each other online. It made total sense to try to turn the play into a series of video calls performed on Zoom."

Cerulean follows Vivian Tan, founder of a new social media platform that sells vulnerability. A Brene Brown-esque figure, Tan offers users the chance to witness each other's true emotions, as detected by a bracelet that monitors heart rate and human feeling. As a constellation of characters seek fully authentic connections online, they bear all the risks of wearing their hearts on their sleeves. How vulnerable is too vulnerable? Can Vivian maintain user privacy despite the pressures of the tech economy? In a night of healing and play, Cerulean asks whether vulnerability and social media can coexist and how communities grieve online.

The play is a product of eight weeks of collaborative writing and rehearsal on Zoom, where students worked three and a half hours a day to devise, rehearse, and "stage" the script. Cerulean uses a variety of digital interfaces from Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), which captures webcams and screens, to QLab, which mixes in sound, and sends them to the world of Zoom. Zoom then broadcasts the final show to YouTube Live, where viewers can watch and comment. The production is made possible by a research grant from the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education to the department of Theater and Performance Studies, which is supporting the program under the label TAPS Summer Theater.

"There's so much more that you can do on Zoom than your usual floating torsos," says Barclay. "We've been playing with puppetry over webcams and filling the screen with nature images. We're hoping to get audiences to see the web in unexpected ways."

Performances are August 6 & 7 at 6 pm PDT and August 8 at 5 pm PDT. Information and tickets are available at https://bit.ly/ceruleanplay.


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