Maiko Bae Yamamoto and James Long are two innovative switchblades from Vancouver. Both are graduates of Simon Fraser University, and can be seen in this month's SuperNova Theatre Festival acting out a YouTube comment dialogue in the idiosyncratic 80-minute performance WeeTube. Swivel the knife, and these two are also directors, professors and the artistic directors of the company Theatre Replacement.
Yamamoto and Long met at Simon Fraser studying theatre. However, Yamamoto says, "I don't know if 'studying' theatre prepares you for actually making theatre. I think it gives you some tools, a basis from which to grow on. I would say our interests come from who we are, and what we are thinking about in the present." These experiences are also the base of influence for WeeTube.
For over 15 years, Theatre Replacement has existed as a space for thespians to make work through collaborative processes. Yamamoto says, "Our work usually has some kind of physically and visually heightened aesthetic, and more often than not uses a biographical source," whether it is verbatim, a pre-recorded interview or collection of found objects. Theatre Replacement focuses on contemporary existence, the interaction between people and their environments.
WeeTube is an interesting exercise in this. This play uses the publicly posted comments found under popular YouTube videos as performance text. Man and woman navigate an intentionally shabby set design to a soundtrack of themselves reading aloud the LOLs and curses of anonymous commenters. WeeTube aims to highlight "both the brilliant and the mundane found in the world's most populated discourse."
Although Long purports he is "too lazy" for social media, the idea for their latest play came as he spent his night trolling the Internet. "After a night of surfing around I started reading (the comments), laughing at the clever retorts, shaking my head, slack jawing at the pure venom."
Following Long's first flirtation with YouTube trolling, he created WeeTube with Yamamoto in one week, for the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in Vancouver. The dialogue was prerecorded and played through an iPod, and the two had to figure out how to perform the abbreviated and informal script where a conversation is always being interrupted and picked up again. Long and his partner believed the play would be a one-off. They were pleasantly surprised to find "it just worked" and have since toured WeeTube through Germany, Holland, Texas, Montreal, Ottawa and now Halifax.
But is WeeTube a cynic? Trolling brought to a new medium? Neither. Long feels that they are celebrating the form, rather than condemning it. "There is both an inherent performance in publicly posted comments as well as something human and recognizable in them. The anonymity allows for an honesty and mischievousness in the text. The speed in posting allows for error, but still the public placement forces a crafting and consideration to the thought. The comment boards have become our virtual town square or philosopher's corner minus the elitism, and often the philosophy."
For Long and Yamamoto, the enjoyment of performing helps them to manage any struggles that arise from their art. They both refer to the puzzle within while making their work. Yamamoto concludes that she will continue to make art "not to be perfect, but to reveal humanity in a way that really resonates and makes people think. When there's some success it humbles me and keeps me growing in what I do."