Clickbait, now playing at the Access Theater, is an interactive theater piece that poses multiple questions that deserve stage time: how can mental illness and suicide affect a community as a whole? How do we reconcile who we want to be and who we really are? How do we let the media and the Internet change how we see the world around us? This production takes a first-hand approach to these questions, asking the audience to sit in the playing space and join in with the action.
Before the lights dim, members of the Clickbait team coach audience members how to connect to the show’s interactive website on their smartphones, where audience members chat with each other during the classroom scenes, watch video games from the characters’ points of view, and follow social media updates along with the college students in the play. Clickbait takes the concept of interactive theater and turns it on its head – instead of physically jumping into the action, à la Sleep No More and similar pieces, the audience interacts the way that we interact today, via the World Wide Web.
The multifaceted and compelling Esther Ko, who is also the co-director and writer of the piece, plays the quiet and friendless Antonia, who is misreported by her campus newspaper as being a victim of suicide. Antonia takes the chance to reinvent herself as her childhood alter ego “Valencia” and watch her college react to Antonia’s “death.” Gama El Sawah and Sajda Waite play the devious newspaper reporters Ricardo and Kayla who perpetuate the rumor and distort information for the sake of a good story and campus journalism, but the characters' plans, schemes, and thought processes get lost in a combination of fast-paced dialogue and lack of vocal projection (the street noise and echoing nature of Access Theater did not help). Although the actors appear extremely engaged with the materials, it is difficult to jump on board with them when the plot is moving quickly and they cannot be understood.
Audience members are easily over-stimulated by the visual elements of the piece (student organization flyers coating the walls of the Access Theater, large televisions set up to show the screens that the college students are using, and the constantly shifting playing space of the action) to the point where the story becomes secondary to their experience in the immersive and interactive space. In this way, the interactive elements of this performance actually become the play’s strongest asset. When the story becomes difficult to follow, it’s easy and even acceptable to just check out the play’s social network website until the action gets back on track. While the cast could benefit from ironing out the technique of their delivery, Clickbait’s story is poignant and relevant at the start of another stress-filled school year when many campus communities are trying to start dialogues about mental illness in their students. A portion of the show’s profits, as well as audience’s donations, will be donated to promote mental health awareness among college students, making this night at the theater charitable as well as stimulating and topical.
Performances of Clickbait continue through September 13 at Access Theater. For more information, go to https://clickbaitplay.com/
Through September 13th at Access Theater.