There is no denying the last decade has seen an universal dependence on gadgets and a preference for all things virtual, even to the exclusion of personal relationships.
Yet, over the past one year when faced with enforced isolation and only social media for company, people have realised that no man survives as an island.
Exploring this dichotomy is Hidden in Plain Sight, a solo theatre performance by Mallika Prasad. Written by Ram Ganesh Kamatham and Mallika Prasad, the play looks at the lives of four women who are trying to overcome the disconnect they experience with the world and within themselves.
Though Hidden debuted in 2012 at the Going Public Theatre Festival at Goldsmiths, University of London, it holds greater relevance now as in today’s digital world, we all have to deal with the camera’s eye, says Bengaluru-based Mallika, an actor, director and voice coach.
How one deals with mental illness and well being when social media acts as a suction is something Mallika developed and worked on for two months, culminating in the production of Hidden in Plain Sight .
“I believe Hidden gave us a chance to re-examine the times we are in as well as the idea of mental health because of the enforced isolation,” she says.
“The past year has been a learning curve for everyone, in the areas of connecting and communicating. This is especially true when trying to connect with those far away or those you never had a chance to meet in person,” Mallika adds.
The protagonists in Hidden in Plain Sight include the Mailer Daemon, faithfully lurking behind all digital communication, Girl In The Apartment (GITA) who is contemplating ending her life, a trekker seeking answers but currently lost in the mountains without her phone and a yesteryears diva living on past glories. “The Mailer Daemon who catches all mails that fall through the cracks, has access to personal stories of the other characters. She ties these women together with threads of missed communication,” she says.
About an hour long, Mallika says her biggest challenge with Hidden was, “Making this performance ‘real’ at a time when there was no actual audience; making your presence felt in an obvious absence.”
“It made me think hard about how to be online and still do a theatre performance. Hidden is a cross between the cinematic medium and a digital conference with a strong connect to a virtual audience. Hidden falls somewhere in that middle space,” she says, adding that with no precedent, there was no boundary or rule to dictate a performance.
“The play also explores the idea of having to deal with your own image all the time — that the camera is focussed on you. One is constantly presenting their self in a certain way on social media with the ‘other eye’ capturing the candid truth of your environment or circumstance — how we want to perceived by the world versus the actual truth.”
“Like the edges of a social media post — what lies just outside that perfect picture whether it is a beautifully-plated dish or a happy couple — the frayed edges.”
Created as a mix of streaming and recording, certain sections of Hidden will include audience interactions. “It is a bid at trying to mimic the theatre experience. Usually in a theatre we’d ask audiences to turn off electronic devices. Here, we’ll be welcoming them asking them to put on their headphones, settle down for a better viewing experience, simulating a sort of togetherness.”
“Social media has had a role to play at different phases of our lives, fulfilling different functions at various points in time. We’ve all been angry with it at times and favoured it sometimes. During the Occupy Movement it was a catalyst for revolution, rallying attention to the plight of students. At the same time, people were facing flak for posting mundane details of their personal lives online.”
“Yet 10 years later, it seems those inconsequential posts garner the most engagement. I liken it to a deluge of digital debris; you are swamped with it and there is no need to look up from your phone.”
“Instances of bullying and trolling leading to people taking the extreme step is because their social media presence is more real to them than anything outside of that realm. ‘Hidden’ is a comment on this way of life,” she says, adding that it is extremely important to examine its impact on one’s mental state.
‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ will be streamed on April 23, 24, 25. Tickets are available on insider.in