New show explores the arts industry in a post-truth world

The Triumph of Man: A Comedy in Two Acts warns us of the negative repercussions of living in a post-truth world (Image Source: The Triumph of Man: A Comedy in Two Acts/RUMPUS).

By Eva Blandis | @BlandisEva

In 2020 a study by the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) showed that 48 per cent of Australians use social media as their primary source of news.

“On digital platforms, the widespread use of algorithms, the proliferation of sources and the dissociation of content from its source can make it challenging to assess quality and make informed decisions about which news and information to read and trust,” said ACMA.

Although a separate entity, social media platforms such as TikTok impact the arts industry through enabling creators to produce and disseminate content.

The Triumph of Man: A Comedy in Two Acts, explores how truth is constructed in a time when fake news and TikTok are prominent in our public consciousness.

Playwright James Watson explains that the play itself, and the creative process of producing it, is informed by the times we live in.

“As I was writing [the play] and having conversations with Mary, my director, we found that this sort of exploration has really interesting contemporary themes,” he said.

Mr Watson’s play explores why we make theatre and what to do when you feel like other people’s agendas are pushing you.

The play was influenced by The Emperor, a novel by Ryszard Kapuscinski about the last emperor of Ethiopia, and “lots of pop culture,” he said.

“I’d say the play is a mash-up of Inglorious Bastards and Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”

Social media, specifically TikTok, play a part in pushing people’s agendas on the wider public.

The TikTok Transparency Report from June 2020 to December 2020 found; “in the second half of 2020, 347,225 videos were removed in the US for election misinformation, disinformation, or manipulated media.”

“[The play] didn’t start at a place of being about fake news or post-truth, but it definitely fell into it as a result of the times we’re living in,” Mr Watson said.

Mr Watson said that being a playwright can be challenging at times, especially when expected to be “a non-conformer in the right way.”

The arts industry, especially in South Australia, is underfunded, which can result in artists feeling a pressure to conform to specific standards.

“There’s definitely a pressure to fulfil criteria, whether that’s a certain budget or a certain theme… it really sucks when you’re at the mercy of that sort of stuff,” he said.

Theatre, and the arts as a whole, can be used to bring awareness to prevalent issues; however, sometimes, this pressure creates a block for creativity.

“I used to have a tremendous fear of what I felt I ought to be writing as opposed to what I wanted to be writing,” Mr Watson said.

“I wrote Triumph of Man very deliberately as a way to get away from this feeling of what I ought to be writing; I guess I wrote it largely for myself.”

Mr Watson is adamant that the best part of writing The Triumph of Man: A Comedy in Two Acts was the joy that comes with doing so.

Before anything else, Mr Watson wants his show to provide the audience with a nice night at the theatre.

“I want to give people joy, that would be the most satisfying thing to get out of it. Following that would be being able to contribute to a wider discussion,” he said.

“That political conversation is really important, but not everyone’s going to be ready for that.”

Triumph of Man: A Comedy in Two Acts opens on Tuesday, September 14, 2021, and runs until Sunday, September 26, 2021, at Rumpus Theatre in Bowden. Tickets are available via the Rumpus website.

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