Go Deeper

Has It All Been Written? FATEBOOK in Development

Posted July 10th, 2009

“On one hand, what we’re doing is very modern. But it also reminds me of the shifting winds of illusion that the Hindu mystics talk about.”

Whit MacLaughlin is the director of the cyberdrama FATEBOOK: Avoiding Catastrophe One Party at a Time, the upcoming creation from New Paradise Laboratories. Wednesday night, they hosted a meet-the-artist event that offered a behind-the-screens (yes, screens) peek at the show. The evening served as both an introduction to their online performance and the construction of their multi-media stage.

This week, the FATEBOOK website launched, initiating the online presence of the show and personae of the characters that will culminate in a set of live performances at this fall’s Live Arts Festival. Check it out – go to Click on “Passing out” and watch a montage of three characters, well, passing out. “Crying”? “Transit”? Ditto. And: “Each time you hit ‘remix,'” explained MacLaughlin, “you get different music underscoring, and a completely different vibe for what you’re seeing.”

“In cyberspace, it’s always on. In realspace, you have to come around in September,” said MacLaughlin, who has launched thirteen young actors into an experimental tangle of networking and narrative. In addition to a profile on the original Facebook, each character has his or her own page on FATEBOOK‘s site, where you’ll find profiles, videos, Twitter updates, and all the trappings of the real world’s social media obsession.

At the Festival, all this online exploring, meeting, friending, and pretending will come together. The set design concept focuses on projections of scenery and people onto muslin screens. With the aid of a tabletop scale model, According to MacLaughlin and Matt Saunders, the set and media designer, these screens will be arranged in “a labyrinthine presentation, like a gallery installation of shifting places.” Audience members will enter the maze and follow characters along their journey to a party.

And what exactly happens at the party? Who knows? The show’s title suggests that the point of debauchery is to avoid disaster, which MacLaughlin described as “. . . staying awesome . . . as you move into independence very unstable world.”

MacLaughlin answered questions from the audience to finish the presentation. Some were curious about the difference between working with teenagers, as was done in the show’s earlier stages, versus the college and recent-graduate crowd.

“When you’re a teenager,” MacLaughlin replied, “you’re living in your parents’ castle. And there’s a moat of some sort around you. And the computer is your passenger pigeon. When the castle starts to fade away, everything changes.”

He waved his hand toward the handful of actors seated onstage. “These are adults.”

MacLaughlin believes that the cloud of public commotion surrounding social networking sites adds another dimension to the show. “To me, the hysteria is like Reefer Madness. It’s like, ‘Ahhh! A new thing! Guard your wives!'”

The event offered a glimpse of how FATEBOOK is developing, and gave New Paradise Laboratories a chance to show that everywhere we go, we encounter the issues raised by the show. MacLaughlin noted the global response to Michael Jackson’s recent death as undeniable evidence that personal life and media life are far from extricable.

“You can go into Sudan or Somalia . . . and everyone on the street knows he died, but the number of people who have actually been in the same room with him is infinitesimal,” he said. “He is nothing if not an illusion of the media. We’re all responding to this unifying electronic source . . . What is that?”

The website for FATEBOOK,, is now live. Visit it now to start engaging the show, and join the party at Live Arts this fall.

–Mara Miller

Photos by Bill Hebert