It’s the topic of conversation among kids, pre-teens, teens, adults, parents: the potential connections and pitfalls of social media. Texting, Facebook, Twitter, Skype…it’s all there, at one’s fingertips: messages delivered at the speed of light. Yes, it can connect you, keep you up-to-date with friends and family and loved ones far away; but it can also, in the hands of the not-yet-mature or self-reflective, be a vehicle for gossip, rumor, innuendo, bullying and much more.
It’s a timely and complex topic, and one that the Highland High School English Department and Drama Club are ready to tackle in their upcoming, original play, Status Update (referring to Facebook).
This is not your typical Our Town high school play. This is a cutting-edge, dramatic comedy that focuses on the day-to-day impacts of children engaged in social media every day. It utilizes a fresh, original screenplay written by the English Department, as well as a soundtrack and video backdrop that project text messages and voiceovers, all erupting and converging as the actors and actresses live out their lives onstage while their encrypted lives live out on the screen behind them.
“Last year we did a play set in the 1930s,” said the play’s director and theater class teacher, Krista Petrosoff. “It was a good production, but the rights cost a lot of money, the scripts; and although you can always find things to relate to, I wanted something more engaging for our students.”
To that end, Petrosoff and her fellow English department colleagues began tossing ideas around this past summer about social networking and its implications, how students and parents might navigate it, and realized that they had struck a dramatic gold mine. “We have a large class with many teenage girls, and there’s nothing that touches each one of them like Facebook and Twitter and texting do. Conflicts arise, misunderstandings take place; and we wanted to create something that was real and relevant to our students.”
She said that it’s not “like kids are so different than they were 30 years ago, but the technology has changed: They have different tools to bully and target someone. There is ‘girl bullying’ — which is often very different than ‘boy bullying’ — where rumors are started and girls are singled out to be degraded and embarrassed.”
“We wanted it to be real to the teenage experience, yet appropriate for our audience,” said Steve Masson, another English teacher who helped co-write the script. Petrosoff and Masson worked with fellow colleagues AnnMarie Meisel, Josh Tatum and Brian Petrosoff to create a script that began through a few brainstorming sessions over the summer and evolved as they worked on it together via Googledox.
Status Update is an über-modern play that takes place in a high school setting, with one scene at a student’s house during an illicit party. After the first scene — a typical high school cafeteria scene — the actors leave the stage, the lights go down and all of their cumulative text messages, sent “during fourth period,” appear on a large screen overhead, echoing the inner workings of real-time social networking.
There is a romance between a star senior athlete and his girlfriend that becomes fodder for rumors, gossip and misunderstandings that are only exacerbated by Facebook and texting, to the point where it spreads like wildfire and ends in a tragedy.
“They’re a great bunch of kids, and they’re enthusiastic about this play,” said Masson. Both he and Petrosoff tipped their hats to senior Nick Signorelli, who is their assistant director and orchestrated much of the audio/video that is a critical component of the play. The cast includes 26 Highland High School students; and while there are technically “lead roles,” the play is written in such a way where everyone’s voice is heard and is critical to the overall plot.
This is a play not to be missed, as it shines a light on the often-overlooked yet secretive life of social networking and the impact that it has on people’s lives, particularly teenagers.
Status Update will be performed this weekend on Dec. 9 and 10 at 7 p.m. at the Highland High School Auditorium. Tickets are $5 and are being sold in advance, but will also be available at the door. To order in advance, e-mail Petrosoff at kpetrosoff@highland/k12.org. ++