On Stage


Get up on it

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The college kids who crammed the bus to capacity on the ride from downtown Bellingham to Western Washington University’s Viking Union Friday night were busy making plans for the weekend.

I know this because I could hear them bellowing at each other about where the parties were going to be later and chatting loudly on their cell phones so as to be heard above the throng of commuters. I’m assuming the frenzy of texting was also focused on who was doing what, and where, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to peer at anybody’s handheld screens.

I thought about the scene on the bus ride a little later, when I was in the audience at WWU’s Performing Arts Center watching Soapbox, a collaboratively created production devised and performed by 24 students who spent nearly a year researching, creating, developing and rehearsing the work before debuting it last week.

Director Rich Brown had told me that Soapbox explores “how we fill our immaterial needs with material things as we pursue sustainable happiness,” but I wasn’t prepared for the level of self-awareness I saw unfold onstage—particularly when it came to the dependence students have on modern technology.

Told through a series of short vignettes, Soapbox tells a variety of stories—many of which the actors returned to throughout the two-hour performance, but some that were just long enough to get minds thinking about the subject matter at hand.

A sampling of the storylines explored included the tale of a couple that, before they were even introduced in “real life,” had already sussed each other out on Facebook. Their relationship went well until she gave him an iPhone for Christmas and he was introduced to a siren named Siri.

Other plotlines and scenes included a lesbian couple struggling to understand each other (one was a grad student who wanted to save the world and the other worked a corporate job and didn’t understand why her girlfriend wanted her to quit it and move to Africa to volunteer with her), a funeral for dead cell phones, a fast-track couple who were trying to learn to live with less, and drunk texting (among other things).

Although Soapbox was created with a later college-age audience in mind, I found that many of the themes it explored were universal in nature and could connect with viewers of many ages—even those who went to college before cell phones were a necessity if you wanted to know what was happening on any given night.

In addition to being enlightening, the show is also entertaining, and incorporates everything from song and dance to comedy, drama and a few things in between. It may even cause you, upon exiting, to think about what you’d say if had your own soapbox to get on.

“I’ve learned a lot from this company,” Brown wrote in the program notes for Soapbox, which ultimately urges audience members to simplify their lives and get involved with the real world—not just the material one.

“It’s courageous to question your values,” Brown writes, “to examine the lessons you’ve been taught by your culture and family, to consciously consider if time and relationships or money and material things will produce personal, sustained happiness.”

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