The age of digital art is upon us. Theatres and arts organisations everywhere are trying to master the craft of carefully adapting their artistic practice to include the ever elusive ‘digital sphere’. Writer and theatremaker, Javaad Alipoor in his award-winning play, The Believers Are But Brothers does this effortlessly. Creative buildings and makers take note.
The idea for The Believers Are But Brothers has been budding for a while. Alipoor ‘take[s] stories that are about people of colour and marginalised communities and re-center[s] them’. After the media picked up on the ‘ISIS brides’ story back in 2015, Alipoor spent some time researching the story and the women’s twitter accounts. “What immediately struck me was the propaganda pictures that they were tweeting out trying to attract other Muslim women, were very different to the ways in which white dominated media was portraying them”, shared Alipoor. While the British Media answered the ‘how could these women give up the freedom in the west and swap it for slavery in the Islamic states’ question by claiming that those girls were social outcasts and losers, Alipoor says that when he investigated he found evidence on their twitter accounts to the contrary.
“You see one of the propaganda pictures she tweets out is of this jihadi guy, I like to call Hollywood jihadi. Handsome, got a lovely beard, really big muscles and a scar down his face in a sexy way and the text around it said what kind of man do you want, some flabby guy who works in an office or this brother who will die for you. What it’s selling isn’t a simpler life. It’s not England is ‘too technicolour, come somewhere simpler’, it’s ‘f*** boring England, come and live in a place of sex and death’.” The journey from here to the show included more research on forums such as 4Chan.
Alipoor’s ‘one and a half man show’ is about contradictions as much as it is about political subjectivity. He tells me that the show isn’t just about the alt right and men who exist within the ‘amorphous swamps’ of the internet, it’s about his inability to communicate with them. The show is a statement on the way the internet allows people to digitally communicate and become a part of a ‘community’ while also isolating. “There’s an isolation in the community that it offers but also a community in the isolation it offers”. The internet amplifies the extreme and minority viewpoints and Alipoor explores all of this in his play.
I spoke to him about the innovative ways in which the Arts are using digital technologies to engage with audiences. Alipoor talks eloquently about the nature of technologies and about how we should be approaching them. “The biggest 21st Century challenges are all to do with the relationship of human bodies to space. The migration crisis is about how humans bodies are changing space, ecological collapse is about space and its changing relationship to us”.
Alipoor shares a brilliant analogy, “when you talk about digital arts with most of the subsided arts sector, it feels like you’re talking about Elvis Presley to the BBC board of directors in 1952. There’s this sort of blankness”.
The show takes advantage of everyday technologies like WhatsApp instead of trying to engage with complex and expensive apps and gadgets. The reason for this is simple. Using the Elvis and BBC analogy again, Alipoor adds “what the arts does, is grab one fashionable thing like VR and do what they were doing before, just with VR. Like you’re an old-fashioned composer who has to deal with rock and roll coming out by making rock n roll versions of your songs”. Using technology presents the opportunity to ask fundamental questions about the nature of audience experience in a very live moment. The Believers Are But Brothers is a creative mutation that changes the way we experience theatre and digital worlds.
The Believers Are But Brothers is playing at the Bush Theatre until February 10. To book tickets or for more information, visit https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk/event/the-believers-are-but-brothers/.