Ask Me Anything - an authentic musical performance
By Petr Malasek, Beth Wood and Amitesh Das
We all have been teenagers having questions that needed to be answered. ‘Ask Me Anything’, created by a dramatic troupe called The Paper Birds, aims to cross the generational bridge by answering questions of real-life teenagers. It shows that modern teenagers have very similar queries about life as the older generation born in the 90s. ‘Ask me Anything’ is a show that comes across as edgy, politically charged and, one might say, hipster. Yet the show is nothing like this. It bathes in its own reflexivity, keeping the audience alert with its constant engagement, reiterating the nature of what the show tries to do. The main premise of the show is authenticity. The drama group have asked teenagers to send them letters with their questions and have received about a hundred messages, starting from mild (how to make a cake, when did you have your first kiss) to existential questions tackling suicide and self-harm. The show acts as a reply to these letters, tackling those questions with comedy. The audience participation added an element of pluri-perspectivism and emotion that these questions are owed.
Bringing their teenager selves back on the stage in the form of bedrooms, the show’s production design is impeccable. Apart from carefully stylised props, and a quirky voice-activated screen which doesn’t fail to make the audience laugh, the set constantly reminds the audience who the show is for. It would be unfair to overlook the use of multimedia technology during the show, as the set is filled with screens that occasionally show lyrics of the songs being sung and introduce guests who answer some of the questions for the cast. The distance between the audience and the performers was very close not only in the literal sense, but this fact also highlighted the theme of ‘conversation’ between two generations that were, or still are, teenagers.
Music plays a huge role throughout the play. The whole show does not feel staged: it is sincere, personal and heart-warming. The show is a 120 minute presentation with three people - Georgie Coles, Rosie Doonan and Kylie Perry - who guide the audience through the premise of the show. They gave the audience an insight into their teenage lives which escalates into intergenerational questions regarding their own children. When approaching worries from the younger generation, the performers added personal input from an adult perspective which connected with not just young audience members but older members too which made the messages very effective.
The exploration of different emotions and worries of young people through music, different scenarios and roleplays made it extremely relatable and engaging for the audience and more serious topics discussed like the worries of mental health in the modern day really hit home. This compassionate and heartfelt piece is a performance for all age ranges with a strong message of accepting yourself and knowing you will survive in a sometimes difficult and tough world. Each member of the cast has their own version of answering certain questions, one that stood out being the cringy, yet adorable diary of Kylie Perry. What begins as a fun and jolly night of answering questions takes an unexpectedly brilliant turn, introducing the audience member to the sad, dark reality of teenager struggles. The show touches upon ideas of suicide, body shaming, bullying in a respectful manner, acknowledging the difficulty that such issues bring to the community, and how answering these questions is something a 120 minute show cannot do. As an audience member, what stays is this feeling of neutrality after the show ends – something which is remarkable.
A show like this could always force itself to be too political or moral. ‘Ask me Anything’ does not teach: it talks and listens and because of that so many people went home on the verge of tears. Ask Me Anything is an astoundingly unique and thought-provoking piece of theatre that combines technology, wit and live music in an attempt to bridge the generational gap and bring us all together.
Image courtesy of The Paper Birds