Posted by Seanna van Helten
17. Sep, 2012
Upon arrival at Polly’s Party, patrons are swiftly sorted into two groups: “Do you want to be inside or outside the party?” The question prepares you that this work – created and performed by Renae Shadler – is part theatre and part performance art, a slight premise fleshed out through interactive performance into a daring, conceptual examination of identity in the digital age.
The host of the party is Polly Wolly, a loudmouthed cyber-punk pop tart modelled on Lady Gaga. She is also a slave to social media. Inside the party, Shadler drills her guests on their Facebook presence (having looked them up already, she impressively recounts everyone’s names and hobbies, according to their profiles) creates a new account for a “Facebook virgin,” shows off her YouTube channel and her proud exchange on Twitter with Gaga herself. Projected onto large screens in real time, Polly gleefully accepts “friend requests” from her guests. “We’re best friends now!” she declares.
From outside the party, where the other half of the audience watches through a two-way mirror, it becomes clear that Polly Wolly exists only so long as her online profile does. When her online self is threatened, the cracks in Polly’s persona appear.
A few technical issues with the overall production could be resolved. The ploy to separate the audience is itself conceptually sound—some watch in anonymity, while others exist because Polly “tags” them in her presence—but the solid mirror separating those inside and outside the party means that the sound is muffled and some intimacy with the performance is lost.
Pathos does come with watching this cyber creature obsessively counting Facebook friends, which is a credit to Shadler’s nuanced shift from light, improvised banter with her guests to complete identity breakdown. Her creation is an extreme embodiment of modern identity, desiring popularity rather than relationships, and performing as herself rather than just “being” herself.
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