Hyperlink is terrific, stylin’ entertainment. It’s about social media. And, in crucial ways, it’s the opposite of social media.
During the show, we’re all in the same space at the same time, for instance. Real human beings, live flesh: how refreshing! Nobody is anonymous. And nobody—as far as I can tell—is trying to farm our personal information. We’re all just playing together with the hilarious, alluring, sometimes dangerous toys of YouTube, Facebook, and Craigslist.
TJ Dawe and Itai Erdal, who perform the show along with double-bass player Mark Haney, also created it with input from director and dramaturg Rachel Peake. Allow me to nerd out for a moment and note that they have done an excellent job of structuring their performance.
Right after the farting wombat video, which is a kind of pre-show warm-up, Dawe and Erdal use multiple screens to show us a compilation called “Can’t Look Away!” Jesus! No wonder we all watch this shit on YouTube. It’s riveting: idiots skateboarding on the edge of skyscrapers, insane near car wrecks. And they follow that up with Dawe’s story about an old pal who Facebook befriended him and then never even said hello. There you have it, the poles of online culture: the seduction and the loneliness.
Right after that—don’t worry; I’m not going to go through the whole show item by item—the audience gets to advise Erdal as he fills out his online dating profile. A huge part of the appeal of Hyperlink is how genuinely interactive it is. And there’s a knowingness to the audience’s engagement as we try to help Erdal to negotiate the tension between honesty and self-advertising.
Speaking of honesty, both performers do an excellent job of being themselves—which is a lot harder than you might think. Erdal, who always strikes me as massively confident off-stage brings that frankness to his on-stage presence. In a slyly self-revealing aside, Erdal, who is from Israel, says, “Late at night, after three or four drinks, Canadians become like Israelis. They start to tell the truth.”
Dawe is one of North America’s master monologuists, and his trademark style features staccato delivery and ironic, wide-eyed astonishment. In Hyperlink, that flavour is still there, but with two other performers on-stage, Dawe’s style is even more responsive than usual: he’s happily riding the show as opposed to driving it.
I’ve talked a lot about the effervescence of Hyperlink. There’s depth, too, and innovative artistry. Hyperlink doesn’t shy away from the cruelties of the Internet, the slut shaming, and the nut-job conspiracy theories and hatreds that can lead to violence. In an eccentrically touching passage, as Dawe dances with a giraffe mask on his head, we see the liberation of anonymity. And, when he takes the head off, we see the loneliness of a man who has been dancing by himself. Again, twin poles.
I’m a fan of puppy videos, but taking part in Hyperlink is considerably more rewarding than watching them all night. Bonus: you’ll feel good about yourself in the morning.
HYPERLINK By TJ Dawe and Itai Erdal. Directed by Rachel Peake. An Elbow Theatre production presented by The Firehall on Thursday, October 5. Continues until October 14.
Get your tickets here.