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Ryan Forde Iosco: A digitally themed play helped us work better with technology

Jade Ogugua, Lucy Kilpatrick, Asha Reid and Heida Reed in Scarlet. Photo: Richard Lakos
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Theatre Renegade’s Scarlet – the world premiere of Sam H Freeman’s play at Southwark Playhouse – explores how our digital lives affect our real world selves. Scarlet, the character, has a healthy sex life, but her world is shaken when a video of her being sexually abused goes viral on the internet.

Our creative producer, Lauren Brown, and I found that producing a piece that deals heavily with the digital world and its real world effects pushed us towards a new way of working.

It was incredibly important to me that we worked with a non-profit to offer support to our actors, director, playwright and audience regarding some of the themes of the play (slut shaming, cyber bullying and violence against women). We forged a partnership with the White Ribbon Campaign, the largest effort in the world of men working to end men’s violence against women. It’s a truly incredible organisation and has supported the production hugely.

The White Ribbon Campaign has led a workshop for our cast and creatives, held after-show discussions and advised us throughout the production process. It also means there is life for this piece outside of the theatrical community. Scarlet is the victim of sexual and cyber abuse perpetrated by a man and, with a male playwright and male director, White Ribbon Campaign helped facilitate a conversation about men telling these stories whilst offering support to anyone who wanted to seek help or explore the issue further.

We receive no external funding and work mainly in theatres that have a smaller capacity but believe very strongly in paying everyone working on our full productions a fair and union-agreed wage. So during our fundraising efforts we launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise small amounts of money from a large number of people.

In a digital landscape with increasing social consciousness, we believed that this was the perfect way to begin Scarlet’s public journey and to plant her first digital footstep. It played a vital role – even though it only represented a fraction of our full budget, we successfully surpassed our £2,500 goal on Kickstarter.

Our crowdfunding campaign helped us with more than just money

As well as raising money, the initiative helped us to launch our promotional campaign for Scarlet and prompted us to create videos and devise a social media strategy. A crowdfunding campaign requires a huge amount of work – more than we realised at first – and the money doesn’t simply roll in. It requires constant updates and messages, all creative variations on a theme: help us. (The satisfaction, when people do, is simply glorious.)

Currently in the third week of performances, audiences are experiencing Scarlet’s story in the physical world (whilst still being able to explore it digitally through our Twitter and Facebook accounts). The production has been nominated for two Offies (best production and best ensemble acting) and has received a huge amount of critical acclaim.

Having explored a production where so much negativity can happen in the digital world, we still celebrate every positive review, every ‘like’ on Facebook and every retweet.

Technology can both build us up and break us down. Producing in the digital age connects us to our audience on a deeper level and we feel thankful that it allows us to gain more funding, discuss our work in greater detail and support our cast, creatives and audience.

Scarlet runs at the Southwark Playhouse until May 9

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