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Social media takes the stage at New Rep Theatre

Influencers and online activism front and center in new plays by women of color

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Social media takes the stage at New Rep Theatre
Jasmine M. Rush stars as Instagrammer Monica Jenae in “[keyping]”. COURTESY PHOTO

New Repertory Theatre has commissioned two new plays by local female playwrights of color in the theater company’s continued mission to support diverse voices and keep theater talent working during the pandemic. Dubbed the “Showstopper Virtual Play Series,” the double premiere features “A Very Herrera Holiday” by Alexis Scheer and “[keyp-ing]” by Miranda Austen ADEkoje in one dynamic 75-minute performance running through Dec. 13.

Amanda Figuera plays a social media influencer in “A Very Herrera Holiday.” COURTESY PHOTO

Amanda Figuera plays a social media influencer in “A Very Herrera Holiday.” COURTESY PHOTO

“A Very Herrera Holiday,” directed by Sarah Shin and starring Amanda Figueroa is a dark comedy about a bubbly influencer sharing holiday recipes and crafts to her followers. But as she pours rum into her coquito recipe with a heavy hand, she begins to slip out unexpected information about her relationship. The piece brings much needed laughter to the pandemic theater landscape, while poking at media and influencer culture and the cloudiness of what could be hidden behind those perfectly staged Instagram photos and product pushes.

“[keyp-ing]” is directed by Dawn Simmons and stars Jasmine M. Rush. Audience members meet Monica Jenae on an Instagram Live event as she describes challenges she’s encountering in getting her production crew tested for COVID-19 in preparation for a new job. While soothing her baby back to sleep, she waits for her husband and the all-black-male crew to return from getting a test in a white suburb. As time ticks by, fear overtakes Jenae and the comments on her Live begin to reveal the racism, privilege and equity that were already entrenched in society and online life and have further deepened during the pandemic.

During both pieces, audience members have the opportunity to participate by commenting, either as one of Emma Herrera’s followers or as a viewer of Jenae’s Instagram Live. This distanced, sometimes anonymous participation is part of the commentary at play. 

“We can say what we need to say and not necessarily have to deal with the repercussions, with a possible confrontation actually happening,” says Rush during a talkback after one of the shows. “It’s the positives and negatives of having the opportunity to be so vocal through platforms like this. I’m curious if it’s giving people a false sense of empowerment or a better sense of empowerment.”

Each performance features both plays, separated by an intermission. Tickets are $20. After the Dec. 10 and 12 performances, a talkback will be hosted with artists from the show. To further the accessibility and inclusiveness of the series, New Rep has hosted post-show discussions for BIPOC viewers, health care workers and students to give each group their own space to discuss and digest the performances.

“Things like this actually allow the conversations to happen in real time,” says Rush. “When you are in a position of reaction, you surprise yourself.”