Go Deeper

Voyeurs of the Lovelorn: Curio Theatre Company explores craigslist’s Missed Connections

Posted July 17th, 2009

Today you were in the checkout line in a blue dress, buying soap. I was the guy with the economy size box of donut holes. I just know you’re the one, you’re my soul mate, and I can’t go on without you. If you don’t call me back, I don’t know what I’ll do.

Is personal-ad voyeurism addicting because people like donut man are desperate and hilarious? Or is it because we secretly hope that one of these days we’ll be the one in the blue dress? Liz Carlson, development director and concept creator at Curio Theatre Company, has a hunch it’s a little of both. This fall at the Fringe Festival, Curio will debut Missed Connections, A Craigslist Fantasia, inspired by that magical online realm where hopefuls reach out across cyberspace for a second chance at that missed connection.

Originally, Carlson had in mind dramatic readings of Missed Connections text, mirroring what she and her friends have been known to do while drinking together. Whether it’s craigslist, personal ads, or the “i love you, i hate you” page in City Paper, people get a kick out of reading, and re-embodying, the longings of complete strangers. “It’s something a lot of people are fascinated by,” says Carlson.

But that idea had a catch–“We realized that that wasn’t going to be totally interesting,” she says, “unless everyone was, in fact, drunk.”

Click on more for more.

As enticing as that sort of performance sounds, the found text from craigslist needed a story to bring it all together. “What we ended up doing was landing on the text that grabbed us, about 15 or 20 texts that we really loved, and creating a framework to fit them all together,” says Carlson.

The result will be a play, rooted in real gems from the web, that taps into a host of cultural questions about the internet, social interaction, and identity. And it’s clear that these questions are pertinent, if nothing else from the prominence they’ve assumed in this year’s Live Arts/Fringe Festival via FATEBOOK and the Fringe production To The Girl in the Yellow Dress (not blue, mind you), which also zeroes in on the Missed Connections phenomenon.

“I think it’s what’s capturing our imaginations right now, as a generation,” says Carlson. “There’s a whole new way that we present ourselves, and connect with other people . . . and everyone is grappling with that, through art or otherwise. Is it good, is it bad, or where is it in between. . . nobody knows yet. But we’re dealing with it.”

As a group, the folks at Curio have adopted the hypothesis that there’s an innate human desire to stalk and be stalked. “There’s thrill involved,” says Carlson.

Think about it: we, the generation of MySpace and Twitter and Skype, use the term “Facebook-stalking” to describe a totally acceptable practice. To our parents, stalking involves following people around, breaking into their houses, even killing them–or at the very least, being really creepy. But to many of us, it’s a fun part of online life, and Carlson says she’s no exception.

“There are people I haven’t seen since third grade . . . and I’m not really interested in talking to them, but do I look at their pictures? Yes. Do I read their updates? Yes.”

She draws an important distinction, too: “Part of [social networking] is connection, but we’re also dealing with something very different than the desire to connect. You just want to look. And you want people to look at you, too.” Otherwise, she says, what’s the point of a detailed profile?

Missed Connections is just one incarnation of that desire, which Carlson says has “taken on so many forms in the last five or so years, that it must be innate.”

The Curio team took on the task of building engaging characters from just a few lines of text, and working those words into performance itself. Some of the text will be spoken (“or shouted,” hints Carlson), but much of it will be turned into typed visual text that the audience can see. “Part of the charm is the spelling, the grammar, just how people write,” she says, “and how they construct their personal voices through something that has no sound.”

Though the play is still in the works, Carlson predicts it will be “mostly funny, I’d say 85% funny, but definitely with elements that are a little tragic, or just sad or weird.” After all, maybe your one true love only uses the internet for mail and shopping. Now that would be tragic.

Missed Connections, A Craigslist Fantasia makes eight Fringe appearances, all at 7pm at the Calvary Center (4740 Baltimore Ave) in West Philly, September 3–5, 10–12, 17, and 19.

–Mara Miller