The premise of the show is simple: It's about a twenty-something Londoner, Annabel, who is infatuated with a colleague of hers, Sebastian. Instead of approaching him at work, she follows him on social networks, hanging onto his every post. Each time she finds out something new about him, she refines her profile accordingly, hoping that one day he'll notice her online, and discover she is his perfect match.
The trouble is, when you write something where the central character is of the same sex and age as you, people automatically try to draw parallels. I'll tell them about the show, and they'll give me a knowing look, a sympathetic nod... It never bothered me until I went to the pub last week with a couple of peers, who introduced me to a friend of theirs:
'Anne, meet John - John is a really amazing doctor-turned-film director, he speaks 6 languages and he was nominated for a BAFTA a few years ago. John, this is Anne - Anne's written a musical about her obsession with social networks'. WHOA THERE.
Let's get a few things straight: The operetta is not about me.
Annabel is a larger than life character who spends hours tweaking her online identity to make sure it looks 'cool', but of course it doesn't occur to her that other people may be doing the same. Naively, she believes everything she reads online, and this leads her to shut herself from the outside world: Why go up to a total stranger who might seem nice but then turn out to be a cross-dressing, axe-murderer, when you can browse through potentially dateable profiles in the comfort of your own home?
Unlike Annabel, having to open 7 different tabs in my web-browser every morning to keep up to date with people's lives, is not my idea of a fun start to the day. I have what I call 'usernameandpasswordophobia'. I hate logging onto things - not because I don't feel safe on the internet, nor because I'm worried I'll find out another one of my 'friends' is engaged - I just don't enjoy it.. To me social networking is a necessary evil: It's useful, particularly in certain fields, but it also feels like a giant chore. Of course I say this, but I'm not quite the rebel I'd like to be. I too can be found on most common networking sites. Why?
It started with Myspace (remember Myspace?) in 2007. It seemed to have worked for the Arctic Monkeys, and I imagined if I got some of my tracks up online, Spielberg might come across them and ask me to score Indiana Jones 4 (little did I know then about the extra-terrestrial plot-line bombshell... N.B Steven and George, if you're reading this, I am not dissing Indiana Jones 4, I'm just saying I was surprised to see Aliens appear at the end of the movie. I'm still a fan and would love to be considered for the score to number 5).
Later, a friend told me someone had posted a really funny picture of me at a wedding on a new site called Facebook. Knowing me and knowing her, I figured it'd be more horrific than hilarious, so I signed up, and manically searched for the exhibit... I was right: I don't look good doing the Macarena. Admittedly neither did the rest of the people in the picture, but at least they were all doing the same move when the photo was taken. Untagging myself from the picture was cathartic, like command Z-ing an embarrassing moment in your life. But of course the picture still exists, even if my name is no longer on it. And I'm still on Facebook, go figure.
The years went by, Linkedin, Twitter, you name it - I followed. I loved technology and I didn't want to miss out on the next big thing. Having said that, I made no particular effort to engage with social media. As a result, my various profiles say very little about me. Or do they? Whenever I log on to Facebook, I land on the newsfeed, but I don't think I've ever seen what my actual profile looks like:
There's a picture of me in rehearsal, and it says that I studied composition at the Royal College of Music, I live in London, and I was born in June. So far so good. I'll have a look at my profile pictures:
There's half a dozen photos here - one of me aged 5 (Classic Facebook move), a couple of pictures of the Eiffel Tower (one of which I made a few years ago out of play-doh - why I felt that was profile-picture worthy is anyone's guess)...and four photographs of me diving into giant pots of Nutella against various backdrops (Pyrenées, Paris, etc). I've even posted a picture of a medium pot between Joseph and the donkey in a nativity scene made out of clay.
I remember putting the Nutella pictures up - but why? Don't get me wrong, I like Nutella, but it wouldn't make my top three items on a desert island-type scenario. Would it last in the tropical heat? The empty glass jar might prove useful as a token gift to the natives. Still, there's no need for a third of my profile pictures to feature Nutella, what was I thinking?
Let's go to my wall (relax, this blog is current, I just haven't upgraded to timeline yet):
My latest anecdote dates from this morning, when I mistook a can of bronzer for hairspray, and accidentally fake tanned my fringe as a result (I am not a morning person obviously). Photos of me at a gig - abusive prose directed at my country's poor performance in the Euro (football, not currency) - an event inviting people to the last London previews of the opera before it goes to Edinburgh - A post saying I'm using Facebook on the tube thanks to the Olympics WIFI (Hitchcock material, this) A picture of a U-shaped strawberry I found in Tesco's, and more abuse, aimed this time at the District (Distress) line. The joy of finding free WIFI at King's Cross didn't last long then.
So I make music, I like live music (unusual for a musician) and I like Nutella. I don't like the District line, but I do like Wifi on tubes (Wait, I thought I didn't like logging onto things?) - I'm currently producing a show which I'd like people to come and see. I am French, but I evidently do not have Auguste Rodin's talent, and I find oddly shaped fruit noteworthy.
The heroine of my operetta is obsessed with how people might perceive her online. Of course, she has an ulterior motive: She wants Sebastian to notice her. While another girl might start wearing shorter skirts at work, Annabel simply dresses up her profile. She does with her personal information what everyone does with their CVs.
If, like her, I was hoping for someone to fall in love with me based on my Facebook profile, it's clear I'd probably need to embellish more than a few things on there. So maybe her character isn't that far-fetched after all. Only one way to find out:
Through the Looking Screen is premiering at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2nd-26th August 2012