Parasocial Parallax

Created by Andrew Gillanders

Your vote will matter.

Sometime in the early 2030’s Nueralink is approved to skip clinical trials, instead a public test with streaming super-star Mackenzie is all over the headlines.

Big Personalities. Big Data. Big Pharma. What could go wrong? 

This is an interactive play, not immersive, interactive. Put on your seatbelts and keep your hands inside your nosebleed seat – the future is crashing into today and you’re part of it if you want to be or not. With 6 endings to be unlocked and 6 secrets to be found, you’re cordially invited to join The Family.

DATES: November 2-11 2023
VENUE: PIP Theatre
DURATION: 90 Minutes
GENRE: Interactive Theatre

DIRECTOR: Grace Longwill 
CREATOR: Andrew Gillanders
PLAYWRIGHTS: Andrew Gillanders, Stanley Benjamin, Jamie Stevens, Rory Hawkins
LIGHTING DESIGN: Laura Charlotte

Eliza Allen
as Mackenzie Ghilleson
Wayne Bassett as William Ghilleson
Jade Clarke as Jordan Ghilleson
Tahlia Downs as Narrator/Director

Digital Program

Director’s Note by Grace Longwill

When I saw this tweet, my first assumption was that it was fake. A funny joke, surely someone is mocking Elon Musk, but no. It is genuine, the man makes a mockery of himself.

There is a theory, popular on some corners of the internet, that in 2016 the death of super-star gorilla Harambe caused a fracture in our timeline – and all of the ridiculousness of our world since then is the result of a butterfly effect. The first ridiculous moment, shared simultaneously across social media was funny. And then Donald Trump was elected, more memes erupted, but it was slightly less funny now. Brexit, Covid, the edge of WWIII – what do they all have in common? Thousands of people making memes, and hundreds of millions of viewers laughing along across the internet.

It’s so easy to think of people on the internet as faceless, anonymous – because the mind can’t comprehend that its possible for that many people to exist, and that its possible to connect to them, or even that they each have an inward reality. The expansion of the internet has ushered in a new type of celebrity, where the most successful appear to be our friends, constantly accessible. But, there is still the undeniable reality it is a heavily curated image of the “genuine”.

No longer do we purchase albums, or tickets, or a piece of physical art for currency. Now we purchase the celebrity themselves, and the currency we use? Our time, our attention, our eyes. But still, we don’t know them. We access them. Access them through frames, perspectives and lenses – often, almost always, through the frame of a camera. We may lie to ourselves, but remember still, we cannot see outside the frame. Their life, their secrets, their fears – we can only fill in the blanks.

On my mirror there is a blue index card with the words ‘the camera inside your head’. I wrote that down in 2021, long before I applied for Parasocial Parallax. The concept latched onto me and refused to let go. Then I relearnt of the concept of the panopticon, the perfect prison, where your warden constantly sees you, but you cannot see the warden. This one sided perspective, the inventor argued, would ensure that the prisoners surveil each other and most importantly – surveil themselves. Like an image of my child self, watching endlessly into the flickering of a fire – I can now endlessly look into my personal pocket frame – scrolling through social media, going deep in comment sections, watching from my safe seat.

Nuance is hard to find online, a near impossibility in an attention economy. This play has no answers to these problems, you may find them in there, but that’s yours to find. What I have tried to do with this play, is to reflect the things that we are beginning to do. We do not know how social media will reshape us, we are beginning to see it, but where it will go is unknown. Parasocial Parallax shows you some possibilities, where your choices may set sail to, but ultimately you are to decide which direction and how you interpret it. And that is the key, this show cannot exist without its audience.

I often affectionally refer to the show as a monster, because it is. It is massive task for an actor, and all 4 of our actors have risen to the challenge brilliantly. In many ways this magic trick is closer to a video game than a typical show. This show has been reimainged once in the writers room, and then I was able to apply my own frame to it, then next the actors could apply their own lens, and onwards through the creative process. Until, it hits you, our audience. And you of course, have your own lens.

And I cannot wait for you to reflect it back to us.

—   —   —

Playwright’s Note by Andrew Gillanders

Structuralism is the literary theory that posits that all texts are inherently related to each other, at the death of all original ideas, all things we create are remixes of each other. A Soviet theorist, Vladimir Propp, extended the field with his research on Narratemes; Propp presented to cultural theorists the atom of storytelling, the most basic building block of any narrative. Now personally, I think structuralism is a load of malarkey, its Eurocentric and reductive. But inside of it is a nugget of truth, and one that fascinated me from the day I learnt of it.

Almost immediately I had flashes of a story across my mind, of interchangeable narratemes, the ability to deftly move across narrative streams while moving tension forward. This is something I experimented with in The Terror of Chance with a cyclical random narrative, but that was only a small scale experiment. The ultimate power of this segmenting technique is not in a classical choose-your-own-adventure method, instead it is how it contains the exponential power of choice. Let me step you through some math.

If a choice has two outcomes in a narrative, it increases by an factor of 2. For exmaple, say a scene is 5 pages, the first choice will create 10 new pages, the second choice will create 20 pages, and so on, 40, 80, 160. And these are cumulative, adding upon each other, so by choice No. 6 you’ve got a total of 310 pages of a script. Impossible to learn and impossible to stage. Parasocial Parallax has 10 different pathways, but through the power of segmentation, the script is only 60 pages long – the length of a typical play.

Moving across segments, exploiting structuralism, allows us to escape passive symbols. The text itself refuses to be read for meaning, is the truth one possible series of choices, or are some choices more correct than others? Perhaps one could argue the text must be understood as 10 segments holistically, but as you attend this show you will only see 3 paths, can you judge the text without seeing the remaining 7? And what of the audience, is meaning created by performance, or is it the relationship between audient and performer in the space? This escape from structuralism lays the path for post-structuralist thought – this is, in my view, a lot less malarkey.

Mackenzie was the perfect muse for this narrative structure, someone locked in permanent performance to the masses, her thoughts bent both towards uncertainty and away from free will. We can see our Parasocial connection to Mackenzie, and the ideas she stands for, reflected back towards as a rigorous kaleidoscope of our values.

And to do it all live on stage, is a privilege.

This combination of techniques, realised by such incredible directing, acting, & lighting design – creates a space for experiences and emotions you could not find on the page, on the screen, or in a linear narrative. If there is one thing I know for certain about this show, it is its most common review. The delight and sense of wonder I see painted across people’s faces when they read the script, exit the theatre, or approach me long after they first interacted with the story – they all say the same thing.

“I’ve never seen a show like this.”