The Dramaturgy of Online Security by Davey Samuel Calderon

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Davey Samuel Calderon’s personal reflections on online security – an unlikely dramaturgical device – in the making of UNSCRIPTED: yellow objects

 

My first encounter with Derek Chan’s yellow objects was reading the working draft of the script in anticipation of his Unscripted event. When reading it, I was immediately drawn into the play – its presentation of the complexity of the political crisis happening right now in Hong Kong, mixed with the horror genre, I felt was an effective blend of art and a call for action. Since that first read, and my time producing Unscripted: yellow objects back in November 2020, I have learned so much about the history of Hong Kong and the work of Hong Kong democracy activists. For those that have already seen the livestream and/or are currently experiencing the online game and installation up this month at the Firehall, I will not go into more detail of yellow objects (you can experience that yourself, more at the end of the blog). I will share my firsthand experience on what it took to assure the safety and security for our collaborators during the livestream, and its influence on the direction of Unscripted. Also, to continue what I learned from the information security protocols of yellow objects, I’ll be referring to our collaborators with their alias, or their public names, in order to protect the personal identities of the folks involved.

At the time, doing all the work to adopt the same protocols that an organizing activist does gave me a dose of what happens day to day for someone fighting an oppressive authority system. I began to understand that all the “cloak and dagger” actions we were undertaking was not just for show, but an immediately necessary action then, and now.

 

A yellow objects game play design test presented at the livestream depicting a model of a classroom in blue tones with a desk at the centre, whitebaord and calendar on the wall behind and a credenza and waste basket on opposite sides, with the words: "One Country, Two Systems. An empty promise."

A yellow objects game play design test presented at the livestream

As I worked with the Unscripted team, one of our collaborators – I’ll call them Tea Artist – was instrumental in instructing us in the “need to knows” of online security in the context of activism. We read over articles such as A DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity to formulate our own guidelines; we moved from using Zoom to a variety of other video conferencing platforms for our meetings due to Zoom’s relationship to the Chinese government; we shored up our online security for our social media platforms and developed contingency plans for our livestream to protect ourselves from any virtual attacks; we used the Telegram app to communicate with our speakers as an extra level of protection for their personal safety. At the time, doing all the work to adopt the same protocols that an organizing activist does gave me a dose of what happens day to day for someone fighting an oppressive authority system. I began to understand that all the “cloak and dagger” actions we were undertaking was not just for show, but an immediately necessary action then, and now. There are real life consequences that come out of representing the voices of the people during an uprising. None of us are strangers to that, as other uprisings came to the forefront in 2020 within our Western cultural context (i.e. Black Lives Matter, Wet’suwet’en and StopAsianHate, to name a few). However, by doing that process, being meticulous in practicing safe communication during our activities online, gave me a strong awareness of what was at stake.

In our planning of the event, it is not surprising that the resulting livestream was influenced by the online security and the safe communication protocols work we had done. It was inevitable that to create audience discussion and engage the HK democracy activist community, Telegram was both the safer and the more immediate way to get feedback. Our pre-recorded interviews with our three speakers: Davin, Jody and Mac, took on a Fifth Estate look and discreet interview style (i.e., everyone had some type of masking of their physical identity) as these activists updated us on the situation in Hong Kong. We also gave our collaborators the option to create an alias for the streams’ credits. Even though the studio we ran our livestream from was relatively quiet, we all felt the loudness of what yellow objects was trying to convey to our guests.

Our three speakers and Derek during Unscripted: yellow objects’ Fifth-Estate-style interview - seen in an aerial view, each speaker separated by 6 ft of space and masked or shrouded in dark obscuring clothing, and Derek positioned in a chair off the right. All have a small white end table beside them with a plant on it

Our three speakers and Derek Chan during Unscripted: yellow objects’ Fifth-Estate-style interview.

So, where’s the intersection of dramaturgy and online security in what I’ve talked about? For me, from creating online security protocols for yellow objects, we were also setting the groundwork for the end-product of Unscripted: yellow objects, influencing the content arc, look, and dialogue of the livestream. Although an unconscious choice on our part, it’s not a surprising one, considering that we were using the similar tools that folks, like HK activists, use when organizing. We were committing ourselves fully to creating an event that reflected the playwright’s intention of sharing with audiences the evolving fight for representation, action, and liberty for Hong Kongers and the measures they have to take to ensure a future for Hong Kong. Which was always our intent, but what is so intriguing is that something I perceived as solely a logistical need, had significant influence on Unscripted’s creative process. It also becomes another tool for my dramaturgy belt – just like PTC’s collaborator values worksheet, sharing some values around communication protocols and online security with my collaborations possibly can aid our work together.

Especially as I foresee more digital theatre happening long after the pandemic, integrating these processes and protocols in varying ways allows for artists making digital theatre to have more agency in their work and may spark some artistic discoveries as well. Just like it did for us for Unscripted: yellow objects. As I purchase my first VPN subscription, I now don’t see it as purely protecting my personal information; I also see it as affording me and my collaborators personal and creative independence online. When it’s my turn to be called to action with my art, I’ll be ready. Thanks to the yellow objects team and Derek for igniting that flame.

Screenshot of Tea Artist’s visuals for yellow object’s My Neighbour and The Dandelions monologue - on a downtown street in Hong Kong with a bunch of barricades lined up across it, no one there except for a photographer taking a pic of a man on the left, with long orange banner saying "It's just the beginning" stretched over the barricades, and white sketchy lines overlayed on the image in the shape of Hong Kong

Screenshot of Tea Artist’s visuals for yellow object’s My Neighbour and The Dandelions monologue.

 

Unscripted: yellow objects recording of the livestream is now available on PTC’s YouTube channel here.

Experience yellow objects, created by Derek Chan, which is available both as a digital experience on the rice and beans theatre website, and as an on-site exhibition at the Firehall Arts Centre until May 22, 2021 – small, distanced, and timed tours only. Tickets can be purchased at the Firehall’s website at firehallartscentre.ca.

Interested in your own online security? Tea Artist highly recommends hackblossom.org’s A DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity.