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Guest Blog: Playwright Clare Duffy On THE BIG DATA SHOW

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Dramatising the story of a teenage hacker - and exploring the value of data and privacy

Guest Blog: Playwright Clare Duffy On THE BIG DATA SHOW

"Why should this story be a play?" I asked Rupert Goodwins when we first started talking about making a show together about his life as a teenage hacker.

Rupert Goodwins is my friend; he was my friend for years before I found out he's actually quite famous. Famous for being a highly regarded tech journalist, and infamous for being one of 'The Prestel Four': four young men who hacked British Telecom in 1984. Two of them were arrested and prosecuted for forgery, because there wasn't any law against hacking back then. They were found guilty at Southwark Crown Court. But the House of Lords found them not guilty on appeal, and that's why - thanks to Rupert and his mates - if you get caught hacking, you can be sent to prison for it.

It's a great story, a bit of modern history, made all the better because Rupert went on the BBC 6 o'clock news - in a blacked-out informer silhouette, no less - to talk about how he could hack Prince Philip's email. That kicked Mrs Thatcher and the police into action. As Rupert likes to say now, "If you mess with the Royal Family, things start to get very hot, very quickly!"

"This could be a great book, Rupert, or even a film - but why theatre?" I asked. "Ooh, I know," he said with his characteristic naughtiness. "What if we hacked the audience's phones?"

Rupert had seen my play Money the Game Show in 2013. He knew how interested I am in making theatre that creates embodied experiences for audiences. That show invited the audience to play with 10,000 real pound coins on stage as two hedge fund managers told the story of the financial crisis of 2007/8. It was a very noisy show. The audience often behaved in ways that weren't dissimilar to scenes from the trading floors the day that Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.

The idea of using people's own mobile phones to tell a story about data breaches, cyber security, secrets and power was very exciting. I find it extraordinary that we take the technology we carry around every day so much for granted. I love the idea of using theatre to re-see mundane objects like coins or phones. Theatre can reveal the magical, mysterious and very political properties of objects that seem commonplace or even banal.

Rupert and I created "Super Swipe" - an app which is available at your app store. It's a super-addictive and somewhat annoying game in its own right. But when you hook it up with our show, it becomes something else entirely. We have created hidden levels to the Super Swipe game and a bunch of digital magic tricks. We also discovered, when we started using them, that we had created a fascinating, digitally immersive way of making dramatic effects.

The Big Data Show was supposed to open at Perth Theatre and then move to the Lyceum, Edinburgh, in June 2020. We still dream about seeing those beautiful theatres, built over 100 years ago, filled with teenagers, playing with digital tech, as we dramatise Rupert's life as a teenage hacker and explore the value of data, privacy, power and secrets. Not this year, sadly.

We were getting close to rehearsals when the lockdown hit. The show was all about life online - could we take the whole show there? It's a question so many people have asked and answered in many different ways. In our case, we had to work out how to keep the audience feel connected directly to the show. We had to build new technology from scratch to replace the stage with a website, adapt the app to work across the internet instead of in a theatrical space, and then do everything else with scripts, actors and production that the new format demanded.

It was a perfectly normal production, just three times as complicated and in a third of the time.

And, as a result, right now, you can meet Cy and Bug at their Big Data Show online.

Enter their digital lobby at thebigdatashow.online, and if you want to know more, contact info@civicdigits.com or visit www.civicdigits.com


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