I chatted to Kishan Ganatra and Jasmine Butler, the directors of ‘2021’ at the Nottingham New Theatre. Make sure you tune in via their YouTube channel to watch the show at 7pm this Wednesday!
Hi Kish and Jaz! Please could you start off by telling us a bit about ‘2021’, its themes and the approach you’ve taken for this show?
Kish: ‘2021’ is based on the premise of a modern dystopia, the idea that dystopian conditions are no longer a fear of the future but rather the fear of the present. In light of this, we’ve attempted to raise awareness of many extreme socio-political concerns that can be found in the world today. The viewers follow Alex, a professional YouTuber who investigates the release of a new ‘green light’ feature by a major technology firm – TJE. The ‘green light’ feature activates on your phone when your camera is being used and, therefore, it allows users to know if applications are watching you without consent. Documenting her findings on YouTube for her followers to see, Alex tries to dive deeper into the mystery surrounding the ‘green light’ and uncovers a conspiracy that puts her safety in jeopardy. We have aimed to highlight the dangers of online surveillance, underhand agreements between governments and large corporations, and the suppression of free speech.
The show sounds like a bit of a thriller. Do you expect the audience to feel unsettled by the piece? Will they go away and start putting stickers over all their webcams? (Won’t lie, I’ve already got one on mine).
Jaz: I think we definitely wanted to unnerve our audience a bit! We’ve been playing around with this term modern dystopia, setting the play in a technically dystopian setting that sits far too close to home. I think having that idea that we could always be 2-3 years away from reaching this level of surveillance is scary stuff.
K: We do intend to make our audiences fairly unsettled as a result. We wish to present an understanding of security and privacy whilst using technology; the themes we discuss within the play are not uncommon across the world at present. As for covering cameras, it’s a difficult line to tow, especially with much of our daily communications now taking place over online meetings. However, I do believe that there should be more transparency with data and privacy regulations, as a large proportion of the public are unsure about what they could be giving up.
What’s been your favourite part about working on this play and what has made it different from the other online projects you’ve worked on?
J: Kish and I have worked together before on a few projects so it was lovely to get the team back together, but it’s been so brilliant working with different people as well. Mel, our wonderful producer, is my housemate so we’ve spent a lot of time working on the play together – including a very artistic trailer plan that was drawn on our fridge for months!
We’ve been having a lot of fun with filming this show online, in particular some of the Instagram footage where Sunenna had to pretend she didn’t know she was being watched. We were filming from all kinds of daft angles and poor Geethika spent a lot of time filming her from the garden through the window, which in hindsight must have looked rather odd to their neighbours.
There was also a distinct irony about performing a play that discussed online surveillance whilst recording it on our phones and laptops!
K: Without a doubt, my favourite part of filming has to be listening to Sunnena and Geethika banter over Zoom meetings, I don’t think there was a single rehearsal with them where I didn’t have tears of laughter in my eyes. It was also definitely a pleasure to be working alongside Jaz, Sunnena and Laura once more, as well as expanding the drama family with the addition of both new and familiar faces. There was also a distinct irony about performing a play that discussed online surveillance whilst recording it on our phones and laptops!
By this point, you all must be pretty used to working remotely. What have you learnt and how has your approach changed throughout the year?
J: I think we’ve really gotten used to working together online. I think Kish and I both learnt a lot from doing Julius Caesar and this time we were working really closely with Lottie, our writer, to make the script as closely suited to the online format, which made things a lot easier. Lottie sat in rehearsals and some of the filming to help us really work on her vision, which was a really fun addition to the team.
K: The process of working remotely can be pretty tricky, with WiFi problems, microphone issues, weird echoes… you name it. But in all honesty, with each rehearsal and meeting we’ve ironed out the bumps and filming became pretty smooth sailing. Once again, the publicity and editing team did a fantastic job with bringing the play together so a huge thank you to all involved!
If the government were to go through your computer, what would be the weirdest thing they’d find?
K: Oh deary me… I happen to have a particularly embarrassing video of a first-year Kishan doing a drunk Cha-Cha Slide dance. These hips don’t lie; the government is welcome to this content.
J: Oh god – I think perhaps the worst is a music video Mel and I shot during an evening of lockdown madness. We danced around the house to Campus by Vampire Weekend and it’s super apparent in it that we are not particularly skilled dancers!
The NNT have been fantastic at making sure there have been so many opportunities to create despite the circumstances
With any luck, this will be the last show the NNT puts out online before returning to the theatre. How do you feel about closing a very challenging but extraordinary year at the New Theatre?
J: I think it’s been a challenge and an adventure working online, having to get into the mindset of film instead of onstage has been very different. I think we’re all ready to get back into the physical theatre next year for sure, but it’s been amazing to even be involved in theatre at all during this year. The NNT have been fantastic at making sure there have been so many opportunities to create despite the circumstances. Live theatre will always be different though, so getting back into the space itself will be a welcome return.
K: Filming online has definitely been eye-opening for both actors and the production team. For example, it’s understandably difficult at times to fully express characters whilst being so restricted in space and manoeuvrability. However, it opened up a host of possibilities that could not have been performed easily on stage either, ‘2021’ is a prime example of this. Whilst we are undoubtedly looking forward to getting back under the theatre lights, I will look back on the past year and be extremely proud of our work together, as well as the plays other students have created alongside ours. NNT has been both supportive and reassuring in guiding us through the past two seasons, so we thank the committee for their hard work behind the scenes on behalf of ourselves and the cast.
Featured and in-article images courtesy of 2021.nnt via instagram.com.
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