To actor Terry O’Donovan, a espresso store isn’t only a less-expensive WePaintings or a Tinder date choice. A espresso store is among the many puts we people “go to be alone together.” And in his site-specific play User Not Found, a espresso store turns into a spot the place you may abruptly be informed that your ex-partner has died, that prior to he died he made you his virtual executor, and now you need to come to a decision whether or not to delete or keep all his social media accounts.
Since User Not Found debuted in 2018, O’Donovan, the co-creator of the one-man display, has carried out it over 120 instances, together with its most up-to-date 10-day run on the Greene Grape Annex in Brooklyn, as a part of BAM’s Next Wave 2019. Throughout the immersive efficiency, Terry (as performed via O’Donovan) walks, dances, slithers, and weeps between the espresso store’s tables as he scrolls thru outdated tweets of the sweetheart who left him two times–first with a breakup, then with a untimely demise. At instances, he’s so just about target market participants that you’ll be able to odor the poppy-seed muffin as he stress-eats it.
Upon arriving on the display, degree assistants hand each target market member (every of whom passively assumes the position of espresso store patron) a suite of headphones and a smartphone. On the phone’s display, you notice what Terry sees: incoming textual content messages stuffed with shallow condolences, and outdated tweets and Facebook posts of his now-deceased ex-partner Luka. Reading along side him felt like a contravention. I used to be extra voyeur than target market member, and I couldn’t glance away.
With every efficiency, O’Donovan pushes the target market participants seated on the cafe tables round him to believe or rethink their virtual afterlives. As you watch Terry debate whether or not to delete or stay his deceased ex-partner’s social media accounts, you’re faced with the reality of your individual web mortality–or immortality because the case is also: Do you wish to have your Facebook to change into a web-based gravesite of types, with other folks leaving posts for your wall in lieu of vegetation? Or is there a beloved one–a virtual executor–you believe to make this resolution for you after you die?
On opening evening, I sat down with O’Donovan prior to the display to pick out his mind on group, demise, and the way social media is shaping each. At first I used to be a bit of puzzled via his resolution to fulfill up on the Greene Grape Annex, the place he’d be appearing in a couple of hours. The tables have been so shut that I may just learn the Google document of the individual sitting subsequent to me had I felt curious sufficient. And the ’80s track within the background performed too softly to provide our dialog any partitions of privateness. But a couple of mins into our back-and-forth, I noticed that was once sorta the purpose. In User Not Found, Terry pokes holes in our separate ideas of private and non-private, revealing how they spill into every different whether or not we adore it or now not.
So why set the display in a espresso store? O’Donovan spoke back via taking a look across the room. “So what if that person there got a text message and found out that their partner was dead?” he requested me. “Would they reach out and ask us for help? Would they just sit there alone? If I saw someone crying would I reach out to them or not?”
You get the sensation he would. O’Donovan wore a diagonally striped sweater that gave the impression of Banana Republic’s tackle a ’90s sitcom outfit. His face is type–fairly drained in a comforting new-dad kinda approach. He bathed his solutions to my questions in high-stakes phrases like “connection,” “comfort,” “touch,” “humanize.” User Not Found targets to humanize constructions and phones however in the end put across that neither are truthful trade-offs for the fleshy actual stuff.
“Despite us having these phones and laptops, we come to these communal spaces because people need people to get through the hard things in life,” O’Donovan stated. “There’s something about sharing that air and that space that’s very important.”
Sappy (even though true) as that sounds, O’Donovan instructed me greater than as soon as that he isn’t sentimental–now not in terms of existence and demise and the artifacts that linger on. “We all have a friend who’s died and their Instagram profile is still there,” he stated. You don’t truly need to unfollow that good friend, he tells me, however you additionally don’t need to lift round this reminder in their demise in an app that remains to your pocket, that sleeps subsequent to you every evening. In huge section, O’Donovan created this play along with his ingenious accomplice Daphna Attias to interrogate this pressure. They sought after to understand, Does social media lend a hand or obstruct the grieving procedure?
O’Donovan did his research in this query as he labored with director Attias and author Chris Goode to create User Not Found. They talked to hospice staff, picked the mind of a professional on the Center for Death and Society on the University of Bath, and interviewed a lady who obsessively curates her Facebook web page with the plan of giving it to her daughter as a present as soon as she dies.
There are a pair various kinds of other people, O’Donovan instructed me: keepers and deleters. In different phrases, those that need their Facebook web page to be memorialized when they die, and those that cross into their account settings and click on “delete after death.” And there’s a 3rd form of direction: those that don’t need to come to a decision–like Luka. They are the individuals who would fairly let a chosen beloved one (a “legacy contact”) select for them. As Terry says in User Not Found, “Death is a story told by the living.”
I requested O’Donovan whether or not he’s a keeper or deleter. “The question doesn’t really exist, because you can’t get rid of anything,” he stated, however nonetheless spoke back anyway: “I’m definitely a deleter. It didn’t make me happy to look at Facebook,” and he imagines his Facebook web page wouldn’t make the family members who continue to exist him that glad both.
His resolution didn’t come as that massive of a marvel. After all, O’Donovan is similar guy who cherishes the tangible, growing site-specific performs set in swimming swimming pools, anchored boats, resort rooms, and garage bins in order that target market participants can contact the whole thing the actors can contact. The virtual international simply isn’t sufficient for him, lifeless or alive.
“Touch is so important to being human,” O’Donovan instructed me proper in the beginning of our interview. “When we have a baby, it’s all about comfort, touch, making sure they feel secure you know?”
User Not Found explores what it manner when that safety is long past. “It’s about how we grieve,” he stated. “We’ve always grieved and now we’ve added this new thing into the grieving process. If you’ve got all these photos and all these videos, are they helping us or hindering us to grieve? Because humans need to forget and move on in order to carry on in life. We can’t remember everything because otherwise we’d go crazy.”
During a climactic second of User Not Found, Terry is flooded with reminiscences of his ex-partner. Suddenly, after scrolling thru a few of Luka’s 30,000+ tweets, he recalls his former lover dancing round their house, studying from his iPad, dozing subsequent to him in mattress. It overwhelms Terry. He crumbles a cookie in his hand, letting the crumbs fall to the ground prior to belting out: “‘Do not go gentle,’ says Dylan Thomas. ‘Horseshit!’ say I. I will take gentle at the end, that much I know for sure. But I can’t figure out what is the more gentle thing–to push the button or not to push the button.”
Jenna Barnett (@jennacbarnett) is a author and editor these days pursuing her Masters in Journalism at NYU, the place she’s learning Literary Reportage. She has printed her paintings in McSweeney’s, Sojourners, and the Belladonna.