Social media musical trying to find love in the digital age – Calgary

For the Facebook-forlorn, the Twitter-tormented and the Instagram outcasts, finally, a musical has arrived that sings your pain.

Touch Me: Songs From a (Dis)Connected Age is a made-in-Calgary musical that just might find itself going viral.

After all, when Joe Slabe, the show’s creator and one of its writers, sings an ode to his so called crappy Facebook friends when the show opens Sept. 26 at the Big Secret Theatre, he won’t just be singing to 150 Calgary musical theatre fans.

He’ll be speaking to a global audience of two billion Facebook users — all of whom will probably be able to relate.

I’ve got some some pretty crappy so-called Facebook friends/

Don’t ask me to join your group/I won’t do it

Don’t ask me to like your fan page/cause I’ll just say screw it

Don’t tag me in any photos and quit posting on my wall/

Cause I’m starting to believe you’re really not my friends at all!

Joe Slabe, the creator of Touch Me: Songs from a (Dis)Connected Age, a musical that explores the pitfalls and passions of intimacy in the digital era. (Joe Slabe)

Touch Me debuted in 2014 at the Joyce Doolittle Theatre inside the Pumphouse, a tiny 60 seat space. It sold out its five-star run, generated enormous buzz and was named Best Musical of 2014 by the Calgary Theatre Critics.

One of those in attendance was Shari Wattling, then the dramaturge at Theatre Calgary.

“She thought it would be great for Theatre Calgary’s Up Close series, which is a more intimate show,” Slabe said, in a  interview with Daybreak Alberta’s Russell Bowers. 

This season, Slabe was thrilled to learn that Theatre Calgary — where he has worked on many shows as a musical director  — wanted to re-mount the show, in a larger venue.

Cabaret style production

“We’re going to be [opening September 26] in the Big Secret Theatre,” he added, “which is 150 seats instead of 60. They’re bringing in cabaret tables, so it’s going to have that same intimate feel.”

Touch Me

Selina Wong is one of the quartet of social media afflicted millenials in Touch Me: Songs from a (Dis) Connected Age, which explores, among other things, the lonliness of the long distance Skype caller and the rage of a Facebook friend who feels as if he has no friends at all. (Kristian Jones Photography)

The show features 21 songs — Slabe contributed four himself — by 15 different composers, most of them Canadian, but also a few from the U.S. and UK.

Only one cast member [Selina Wong] is back from the 2014 production. Slabe has added a number of new tunes — and removed all references to Blackberry.

Discovering his love for musical theatre

Slabe first discovered his love for musical theatre as a grade 10 Calgary high school student.

“I played in the [orchestra] pit for a high school production of West Side Story,” he said. “I just loved it so much. I loved being a part of that. There were two girls in the pit with me playing the flute and the piano and at the end of the show, they would just be wracked with sobs as they were playing and I went wow, this is really powerful — and I want to be able to do this.”

No matter whether the subject is social media anxiety or Abba songs, Slabe says the recipe for successful theatre music never changes.

Advance the plot

“Good musical theatre songs need to advance the plot,” he said. “If you find that you’re in the same spot in the story at the end of the song as you were at the start, you can cut that song.

You don’t need it. In a good musical theatre song, the character either comes to some sort of realization, or they make a connection — and they’re not all solos, so there are actually scenes that take place within songs that advance the plot.”

Double-edged sword

And as far as social media and finding love goes, Slabe says that Touch Me reflects both the opportunities and drawbacks of living at a time when there’s frequently a device between you and your loved one.

“It’s a double edge sword in that we live in an age of amazing technology, where you can make connections with people all over the globe really,” he said. 

“Yes, technology can connect us, but it can also leave us feeling very isolated – and [we wanted] to just explore that too.”

With files from Daybreak Alberta

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