’21st Century Carnival’ explores roles of technology, social media on the stage

Actress Cesile Parker-Walker, junior in theatre, smiles at the audience while actor Dalton Dunn, senior in horticulture, rests his hands atop her hips during a performance of "21st Century Carnival" at the Purple Masque Theatre. (Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

Technology’s impact on the lives of emerging adults is the central theme of “21st Century Carnival,” a play that opened Thursday night in the Purple Masque Theatre at Kansas State University.

The play is directed by Ashley Blair Barrow, graduate student in drama therapy. The play was entirely produced by K-State students in less than two months, and it uses social media as a way to explore six storylines during a night at the carnival.

To people behind its production, “21st Century Carnival” is a particularly unique play because it is a “devised work.”

“It means everything you see on stage was created by the people who are performing it and the people who helped produce, direct and dramaturg the play,” Jacob Edelman-Dolan, senior in theatre, said. “Everything from the script to the light to the direction, the movement, was created by us.”

Barrow said the play’s central theme is exploring how social media affects social interaction.

“It’s a hybrid about how technology affects us, not necessarily for the worst but for good and bad,” Barrow said.

Samuel Martin, sophomore in theatre, portrays an unpopular vlogger as a part of "21st Century Carnival." (Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

Rather than coming into rehearsals with a script, the cast of the show spent the first week of rehearsal doing improvised acting activities and exploring different themes. Actors were given homework and asked to bring material to subsequent rehearsals.

One assignment was to tell a story, but to do it through the lens of a social media post. Through these stories, the actors shared personal experiences with each other.

Barrow said each of those stories appears in the final version of the script in some form.

“That’s where the drama therapy came in,” Barrow said, regarding her area of study.

Along with being one of K-State Theatre’s stage shows, “21st Century Carnival” is also serving as Barrow’s thesis project.

After the first several days of rehearsal, Barrow took some of her cohorts and the material from the first week to spend the weekend writing a script. Barrow’s helpers included assistant director Chelsea Turner, senior in American ethnic studies, and dramaturges Hunter Nelson, senior in theatre and English, and Emma Galitzer, senior in theatre and modern languages.

A dramaturge is essentially a script editor for stage plays who focuses on the text of the play and its themes. Because of that, Nelson said he focused on the integration of technology as a driving theme.

David Grigsby (left), sophomore in theatre, and Aaron Rojas, senior in horticulture, react to potential matches on Tinder in "21st Century Carnival." (Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

“It’s a fact of life that we all have social media,” Nelson said. “So what do we do with it instead of condemning it?”

Because of its unique integration of technology, the show changes a little every night, even though it has a set script.

Actors also play multiple characters in the show. Edelman-Dolan plays a character who is addicted to mobile games and another that is a carnival worker. The “carnies” serve as the ensemble cast for the show.

“We established pretty early on that we wanted the carnies to be clickbait-y,” Edelman-Dolan said.

Barrow emphasized that 12 actors, one director, one assistant director, two dramaturges and five designers made “21st Century Carnival” come together in just five weeks.

“It takes an incredible amount of bravery and risk to do what this creative team had done,” Barrow said.

The show includes singing, dancing “and funnel cake,” but Barrow said people should come see the show simply because it’s relevant.

“We’re living in a moment in time where this story can only be told right now,” Barrow said.

The play shows in the Purple Masque at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with a 2:30 p.m. matinee showing on Sunday. Tickets are $9 for the general public, $7.75 for seniors, military, faculty and staff and $5.75 for students and youth.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Aaron Rojas as Dalton Dunn in a photo. The Collegian regrets this mistake.

I'm Macy Davis a former Collegian culture editor and a 2019 graduate in English. When I was not reading and writing (both for class and for fun), I was also a member of the nationally ranked K-State speech team.