What we believe to be true, controls just about everything we do in our daily lives. It seems absurd that one person, a camera, a YouTube platform and their words could influence what we count as truth. After talking with the team behind the one of the upcoming plays for Durham Drama Festival, this concept is going to be shared with audiences in a one-man show called Influenced. Created by student Marc Twinn, his play Influenced discusses themes surrounding truth, and follows one man’s ability to promote morally questionable content. Raising relevant topics that are not yet explored in many productions, this is sure to be a captivating performance performed as a one man show.
To begin with, the team who was made of up writer Twinn, director Emily Kelly, performer Ollie Cochran, and assistant directors Mindy Cao and Linus Cheung, opening discussions began with talking about the plot. Twinn summarises the play succinctly and makes the point that “the part that grabs people more is Erik is this big influencer who spouts lies that he does not believe”. He goes on to add that “starting off as well-meaning and critical-thinking individual he gets caught up with a group of friends who help him build his YouTube channel into a problematic online empire”. This complex character is in fact influenced by his friends and is driven to create content out of pressure to impress Alex, a ‘friend’ that Erik aspires to be like. Cochran adds the point that his character has this “sort of friend crush”. As a one-man show, Cochran will bring these other characters to life and having spoken with the team the methods they went through to create these characters were collaborative ones.
As we spoke further, discussions examined the character of Erik. Twinn says this play is like the “internal dialogue of your favourite worst person”. Director Kelly adds that it was “all hands-on deck” and everyone pitched in ideas to create not only Erik, but the other characters that are spoken about in the play but not seen. Cochran will multirole these characters and during the rehearsal process the team experimented with gait and voice to ensure a difference in the characters. As Twinn adds this technique and demand of the show required “a lot of discipline from Ollie”. Managing to keep the play real and as close to reality as possible seems to be at the heart of both the directing and writing styles. During the creation, Twinn even recorded his voice before writing to create verbatim content that would make the audience forget this performance was a play. Kelly also adds that she wanted to see “how Ollie did it”, and Cochran has been encouraged to add and take away elements as the character develops over time. Cochran notes that even as a seemingly nuanced character who does terrible things has “a layer of vulnerability to him”. Kelly adds “the play is very intimate and that kind of almost puts you on the side of him sometimes”. It is going to be up to the audience to form how they feel about him.
As the character of Erik is an influencer, he has an unprecedented amount of power, that is perhaps subtle. The play will explore this power with Twinn making the point that “they don’t just give information, they develop this sort of para-social relationship with somebody else”. Watching a YouTuber for years, you will begin to form emotional connections without realising, and begin to believe what they say without questioning them which Twinn summarises as “giving an awful lot of power to essentially a stranger to control potentially truth”. It is this danger of belief and connection between viewer and influencer that the play will explore. Even the character of Erik gains happiness from these emotional connections that are made with a person through a screen. Cheung adds that the audience will be like the YouTube viewers and will realise they are “also fact-checking”.
The inspiration behind Influenced came from Twinn who comments “I remember I came up with the original idea wanting to create a show about powerful people, and realising on a walk from a lecture how powerful unchecked influencers were”, and then Influenced was born. Twinn goes on to say that people can become “wrapped up in influencers that pushes them to do these things”, whether this be good or bad. With this as a starting point, Twinn created the play with the concept that even though “social media and fake news are nothing new” he “wanted to show that as a generation, that we are not immune to this”.
This show is going to showcase incredibly relevant issues, being performed by just Cochran, who Twinn adds is “very captivating”, it is set to be an incredibly stirring and interesting piece of theatre. Performed in a conversation style from actor to audience, the intimate show will also include an original score composed by Dana Al-Tajer, it will have funny elements whilst exploring dark themes. Although, as the entire team reminded me at the end, I unquestionably took their word as sincere and who knows, this could in fact be a 40 person musical! Being performed in the Mark Hillery Arts Centre from Wednesday the 7th, Friday 9th and Saturday the 10th of February, tickets can be found here.
Image credit: Marc Twinn