When the virtual world becomes flesh and blood

Mark Shenton
Mark is associate editor of The Stage, as well as joint lead critic. He has written regularly for The Stage since 2005, including a daily online column.
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I met the man who became my husband online first, so I know full well how some of the most important relationships in my life can be forged in a virtual landscape. We usually say, though, that we actually met at Starbucks, since that is where our first face-to-face meeting took place.

But thanks to Twitter and this blog, among other things, I also have online relationships with many, many more people who I've never actually met – but with whom I make an often daily connection with, whether they are coming here to read me or we interact publicly or (if I'm following them, too) privately via direct messaging on Twitter.

And we touch each other's lives in plenty of ways online as a result. I know, from first hand experience, how overwhelmed I was by the public show of support I received last year when I was fired from one of my jobs as theatre critic of the Sunday Express. I heard from many friends, of course, but also more surprisingly, from 'enemies' – people whom I had crossed swords with in the past, but rose to the occasion to prove that there was another side to our interactions. I heard from numerous industry professionals, from actors to directors and writers, some of whom I had never met before, but just as importantly, many readers whom I'd never interacted with at all before now.

On Monday morning, I woke up the sort of message you don't like to see about someone you've known, however fleetingly or peripherally: I was directed to a tweet sent out by the musical theatre star Ramin Karimloo:


I had first 'met' Kevin online a few years ago, when I wrote about the ridiculous (but also ridiculously damaging) Love Should Die campaign that was being waged against Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, by 'phans' (sic) of the original show who hadn't even seen the sequel. Kevin had done lots of investigative behind-the-scenes work on the ringleaders of the campaign, and shared it with me.

We bonded over it, and stayed in intermittent touch after it; Kevin would regularly respond to tweets I'd sent. The very last one rather hilariously followed a tweet I'd sent out linking to a piece on Brazilian waxings, that I wrongly attributed to Hadley Fraser instead of Guardian journalist Hadley Freeman. I duly corrected myself, but Ramin Karimloo rushed in to comment, to which Kevin in turn gasped:


We'd in fact met, briefly in person, in the years inbetween our first Twitter introduction and now. I was in Toronto a couple of years ago, en route to the Stratford festival, and we met for dinner. I remember what a great evening we had – and also that, sitting at an outside table, we gradually got wetter and wetter as the heaven's opened!

Kevin didn't have a huge number of followers on Twitter – but its clear he impacted on a lot of lives. When I tweeted about his death, I got a lot of incredibly warm responses, including one from a former foe turned friend, @PansWendybird, who replied:


We use to be on opposite sides of the debate and in the past two years we became good friends. I am completely heartbroken.

And as another, @Bric123, commented, too:


Another person @Broadwaybabyto, whom I've not met but who I've regularly tweeted with over the years, turned out to have made a firm friend of his in person, and posted a beautiful blog appreciation:

 As she says in her introduction,

It’s bittersweet that so many of you will find out of Kevin Derouin’s passing through this post – or through various social media channels such as twitter and facebook.  He was someone who both loved and loathed social media – and I have a feeling his twisted sense of humour would get a kick out of the chaos his passing has caused online today.

He had come into our lives via social media, and was now leaving it the same way. But as Kelly goes onto write in her blog posting, there were two Kevin's:

If you only knew Kevin online, you didn’t really ‘know’ Kevin.  And that’s why I’m writing this post.  When I found out this morning that he had passed away, my heart broke at the loss of someone who had (almost unbeknownst to either of us) become my best friend.  A true confidante and a tireless supporter of mine, he had a heart of gold and was always there for me – even when he completely disagreed with whatever doing (which was often).

He was, she admits, combative online:

 Kevin knew his online persona was one of being a bit of a jerk, or the ‘twitter villain’ of the Toronto theatre community – and it was a role he embraced  in order to attempt to create debate and even argument.  Kevin knew what so many people are often afraid to admit, and that was that healthy arguments make as all better.  By challenging accepted viewpoints and demanding better of the accepted norms, we force ourselves to do better.  And that’s all he ever wanted for our theatre community.

But most importantly to her,

Kevin was a great friend.  The villain online, he was a sweetheart in real life, who I’m confident would have done just about anything for me and never asked for anything in return. We ‘met’ three years ago through social media – exchanging tweets and FB messages and bonding over a shared love of Toronto theatre and a mutual desire to see this city become what we both knew it could be.  I took a chance on meeting him ‘in real life’ just over three years ago this month, and we became fast friends.

I won't claim the same degree of intimacy with Kevin, but he touched my life. It will be sad not to have him leaving his sometimes mischievous, sometimes abrasive comments again!