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An Interview with Sam Foster from the NORPA play ‘Viral’

NORPA’S play ‘Viral’ at Lismore City Hall

Lismore City Hall | Wednesday 12 Septmber | 7.30pm | $25–36

What is the price of internet fame? This is the question asked by award-winning theatre show Viral. It’s the story of Art and Zane, two boys who try to get more popular at school and make money by using social media. Hayden Jones and Sam Foster are the performers who tell the story. Sam spoke with The Echo about the ideas behind this award-winning show.

What does it mean to go viral? How does it happen?

A viral video is a clip that becomes popular online through sharing, mainly on social media sites. As recently as 2011 a video could be considered ‘viral’ if it hit a million views; however, these days it’s more like five million views, over a short time (3–7 days) to be considered ‘viral’. It happens through online videos being shared, reposted and tagged on sites. Mainstream media our now using social media and user uploaded footage to fill their news content. This adds to the spreading of these clips and increases their popularity; it can also provide revenue for the original creator of the clip as they will often be paid for the use of the footage.

How important are social media in young people’s lives?

Social media are a central part of any young person, or in fact persons of any ages these days. The value and focus we place on the phenomenon can vary depending our values, upbringing, or sense of self-confidence. I think for many young people these days it’s just a way to stay connected to your friends and the world around you. I don’t think many people stop to question how we use or engage with social media. I guess that’s one of the main reasons we made this show. We want people of all ages to reflect on the way we use technology and social media for both positive connection and negative or malicious outcomes.

What was the inspiration for creating Viral? How did you work the story up?

The starting point for the show was the story of the old fella on the Gold Coast bus who got bashed by two young girls. The attack was filmed by a 13-year-old passenger and the footage was posted to YouTube; as a result the perpetrators were tracked down and charged. We are based on the Gold Coast so this story was of particular interest to us. It touched on a number of issues and we originally planned to make a whole show based on this event. As we started researching we realised it was not an isolated incident and there were hundreds of examples of horrific events captured on phone cameras and posted on the internet. In some cases the fact that the footage was shared on the internet had a positive outcome but in other cases it was more harmful than good and only caused more pain and suffering for the people involved. As we looked at all these different examples we became fascinated with the idea of our social responsibility, morals, and ethics in how we engage with and use social media.

How do you weave the narrative through the story?

The central narrative of the show is of two mates, Art and Zane, who want to start their own YouTube channel in an attempt to be more popular at school. As they scroll through the internet looking at different clips in an attempt to get inspiration for their channel they realise that ‘shock value’ is often an effective way to gain popularity. The show explores these different stories, but continues to return to the boys as their own moral codes come into question. The show follows their story, their friendship, their questionable actions, and the repercussions of their choices.

What aren’t we prepared for with social media?

I don’t think we are fully prepared for the impact social media will have on how news is shared and reported. They are already the main way in which we hear about breaking news stories but I think that brings up a lot of potential issues in terms of credibility. Everyone has a soapbox to stand on now and can say whatever they want and it can be taken as fact. It’s not; it’s only opinion, and there is a very big difference, but I don’t think people really stop to think about that. They just say, ‘I read this thing online that said…’ I think it can be quite dangerous and the more information that we have access to the harder it can be to find truth in that.

What should we expect for your show in Lismore?

Viral is thought provoking, dynamic and entertaining. It’s a show that asks some important questions about society and our humanity. It’s suitable for teenagers and adults alike as this is an issue that we are all grappling with at the moment in our modern world.

Wednesday at Lismore City Hall for NORPA. Tix are $25–36. 7.30pm. Bookings at www.norpa.org.au.


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