Scene. We are on a stage. Literally sitting on. a. stage. Below us the members of Black Watch are joking around with one another and we can all sense what is coming. We’ve heard live gunfire, been engulfed in the drifting fog, and felt the tension as they fought a choreographed dance with one another and the invisible insurgents in the middle of Iraq. We were given a history lesson, punctuated by uniform changes all to the sounds of the Scottish Highlands. We are in an enclosed space in the middle of Washington, DC, and yet….we are transported. We are somewhere else. We are anywhere but here.
Scene. It’s a story we know by heart. Jane. Beautiful Jane, who we know can’t be beautiful for nothing, trying to be stoic when something that seemed so real, so true, is suddenly over. And her sister, our narrator, is feeling the loss, and looking to understand the sudden changes, but unhampered by 18th century propriety and expectations. This time we are experiencing a 21st century Jane Austen, which includes an Elizabeth Bennet that is someone we all know, someone we could be friends with. A Lizzie Bennet sharing her life on YouTube and Twitter, through the very modern online social world we all live in.
Black Watch (a play by the National Theatre of Scotland) and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (an online retelling of Pride and Prejudice) embrace various media to elevate the story beyond the predictable, asking us to at once use our imagination while also acknowledging the blurring of the line between fiction and reality. One is a re-creation of real world events in a fictional setting, while the other brings a fictional tale into our reality, our day-to-day online lives. Both depend on crossing the gap–of finding that common ground through which to engage watchers/give them a stake in this particular story
For instance in Black Watch a pool table substitutes for a transport (a wagon), and the storied history of the regiment is illustrated by approximately seven on stage clothing changes in ten minutes , the gradual shifting of symbolism reflecting the actual merging of these special units into the larger Scottish army. Understanding the cramped quarters, feeling the men’s identities as their role in the fight twists and turns, ending with one glimpse of death, sudden and unyielding. There are choreographed dance-like fights to Highland music, and television screens providing views beyond the base. And as each man receives a letter from home we feel the distance. By using various media–sign language, music, television, dance we are pulled into the narrative in unexpected ways. Using familiar objects such as a pool table we are given comparisons to fully understand reality such as it was.
In Lizzie Bennet’s world we follow the story through her video diaries (and those tangentially related) along with the twitter feeds of @thelizziebennet, @thelydiabennet, @looksbyjane, @that_caroline, @wmdarcy, @ggdarcy, @bingliest, @mrrickcollins, @mariaofthelu, @thecharlottelu, @themarybennet.
But that’s not all. On Tumbler we get a sense of who these people are beyond the videos. Jane is a fashionista and posts her outfits through a site called Lookbook (looksbyjane.tumblr.com), while the yet to be seen GG Darcy (Georgiana) shares her love of music on thisismyjam.com. While people are more than their online presence, the use of these ancillary sites gives us a glimpse into these fictional characters individuality.
Then there is point of view. On one hand the diaries really only afford us Lizzie’s perspective. Especially when it comes to our soon-to-be hero Darcy. Only forty-nine (soon to be fifty) segments in and we are just past the part in the narrative when Bing Lee/Mr. Bingly abruptly departs Netherfield for parts unknown (LA). The following two video diary entries reveal Jane and Lizzie’s perspective. The first is just after the Lee’s abruptly depart…
…and the second as Lizzie comes to grips with her changing life (with a nice wink wink to how the events played out in the book).
However, since this is a video diary we really only get one side of the story, so we turn to Twitter where we get the following conversation between the Darcy and Lee siblings as a way to see how the other side of the conversation is reacting. (I also included a tweet from Jane, which is an example of how she uses clothing to mirror her emotions).
What links the two of these presentations together is how they connect the audience and the story they are trying to tell. The production of Black Watch takes place on a stage, but easily brings the war (and its aftermath) to our seats. Lizzie Bennet embraces our modern sensibilities and lays it all bare. It’s one part confessional, one part voyeurism. We know what’s going to happen and can’t wait to see it all play out.
I think that this is a challenge for historians. Making the stories of the past accessible but in a way that uses the tools and media currently engaging those around us. These two examples allow, in their own way, to bring the past to the present, and make a bridge between reality and fiction//fiction and reality.