A recent quote on Bash.org read, "Wikipedia! you go to look up a CSS term.. and you end up reading about Spanish painters and astronaut micrometeorite protection." Ars Nova, a small theatre group in Manhattan, recently decided to replicate that experience for users in the form of The Wikipedia Plays, a series of short plays that ran from August 3rd through 6th.
Kim Rosenstock is the Associate Producer at Ars Nova, and she created and runs 'Play Group', the in-house writing group at Ars Nova group. In the course of brainstorming a new show, "The group came up with the idea collectively at one of our meetings when we were discussing possible framing devices for a group project." One of the members, Carly Mensch came up with the idea of doing a set of interconnected plays. Members used Wikipedia to pick a starting point, then traced away from that, 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon-style', each article referring to and leading to the next, and each becoming a subject for one of the plays.
The unique format of the plays, and the act of connecting them was noted. "(This is) a theatricalized exploration of language following the academic model that Wikipedia and other encyclopedias present," says Andrew Kircher, Ars Nova's General Manager. "It should be said that these plays are not based on the Wiki entries in full, but rather simply the titles. Wikipedia was the tool our playwrights used to bounce from topic to topic, following the embedded reference links in each entry to the next 'title'."
Rachel Shukert was the author of 'Stiletto Heels', one of the short plays. She admits, "I regularly fall into Wikipedia for hours at a time, particularly now that the new Harry Potter book is out," and cheekily adds, "(I) take it on faith that EVERY WORD is absolutely accurate. That's true, isn't it?" Shukert used Wikipedia as many editors suggest it should be used; as a starting point for gathering information. "I used very few of the Wikipedia facts, and kind of went with a prevailing cultural attitude toward my subject, although Wikipedia helped with this."
Kircher dealt with more of the technical aspects of the production, such as getting permission from Wikimedia to begin with. "Wikimedia was kind enough to loan us use of the name for our title and premise. This is a small production that serves to support the work of our playwrights group," he explains, when asked about the GFDL and how it might apply to these works as possibly derivative. "These plays are still the property of each playwright. We (Ars Nova) only hold the rights to produce these four performances. Given that these plays merely take their titles from Wikipedia, it seems the GFDL does not apply. Wikimedia's only request was that we share any media (photos, video, etc) of the show when it ends for their site." Unfortunately, while the theatre company was willing to release the media, the actors' union rules don't allow them to do so.
When asked if she'd enjoyed her experience with the play and Wikipedia, and if she might write another play in the same fashion, Shukert happily says she would "Totally do it again! It was fun!"