Behind-the-scenes of writing a play: CTRL-Z

Behind-the-scenes of writing a play: CTRL-Z

CTRL-Z is a new student-written play, about a group of people who choose to delete themselves from the Internet, which debuts at the Corpus Playroom next week. We spoke to the show's writer, GEORGIE NEWSON-ERREY, about the writing process.

What inspired you to write CTRL-Z?

Like anyone who spent a large portion of their adolescence alone in their bedroom, I’ve always been interested in recluses – people who have attempted to bypass the overwhelming complexity of social dynamics by simply removing themselves from the realm of the social entirely. I was initially drawn to what we might think of as the canon of reclusive archetypes, which is largely composed of hermits, ascetics, mystics and the like, but I was just as if not more intrigued by the new wave of what I have come to regard as postmodern recluses: militant anarcho-primitivists, lone hackers, secular volcels (‘voluntary celibates’), conspiracy theorists with bunkers full of tinned food, people trying to go off-grid, people who want to delete themselves from the Internet, people who have determinedly never been online, etc. What I like about postmodern reclusiveness is that the reasoning behind it is often inherently paradoxical: solitude is a way to combat the particular solipsism that can only be experienced from within a vast, vigilant crowd. CTRL-Z was an attempt to link postmodern recluses to the lineage of hermits and mystics to which they surely belong. But whilst I wanted to write something about withdrawing from the world, I also wanted to write something about community, the kind of community that manifests within the fragile fissures of surveillance capitalism (which can feel like the vastest and most vigilant crowd of all). CTRL-Z was also an attempt to do that: to write into being a community of recluses.  

Would you want the right to be forgotten online, or do you feel like the characters in your script take things too far?

In an ideal scenario, I’d want everyone’s data to never be collected by state or corporate powers, and then there would be no need for notions like ‘the right to be forgotten’ at all. Unfortunately, this vision of a democratized Internet is pretty much incompatible with the political mechanisms that keep ‘Big Data’ alive, and those mechanisms don’t seem to be going away any time soon.

Whilst reading up about data protection, I started to notice a kind of semantic ambiguity in the discourse. When you remove yourself from the Internet, what happens? Are you ‘deleted’? Are you ‘forgotten’? Do you ‘disappear’? These terms are used pretty interchangeably, but they carry very different connotations. The characters in the show become so obsessed with data protection in part because they are struggling with this ambiguity – they want certain parts of themselves to simply disappear, or to be cast into oblivion, but they know that deleting something from the Internet isn’t the same as erasing it from history altogether, and that lack of certainty creates an endless feedback loop of anxiety.

Has the script changed as the actors bring it to life?

The actors have brought real humour and dynamism to every scene, and have heightened relationships between characters that were only hinted at in the script. We have an absolutely wonderful cast – I feel very lucky to be working with people who are not only excellent actors, but who seem to really understand and care about the ideas that the show is trying to explore.

What is your favourite moment in the show?

In rehearsals I’ve loved watching what is essentially the climax of the show, which involves The Algorithm (a quasi-deific embodiment of surveillance technologies) finally interact directly with one of the characters. On a lighter note, thought, there’s also a moment where some of the characters try to communicate with the Russian government via a high-tech sex toy, and I really like that bit, too.