After watching the true crime show Tiger King, playwright David Volpov started contemplating the way he interprets media.
“Only after seeing the series did I think, ‘I don't actually know what [Carol Baskin] did to her husband,’” said Volpov. “But everything in the editing, everything in the music was telling me to think that she did.”
He was then inspired to write Tragedy, Slander, & Wine, which tells the tale of a tragedy and the media circus that surrounds it, showcasing how media can bend the truth to its advantage.
It begins with the death of an actor on stage during a community theatre production. News sources come into the small town to report on the mysterious death and potential murder — conspiracy theories and true crime shows fan the flames, leaving Shannon, the deceased actor’s sister, accused of being the murderer.
A year later, the town has seen profits from the curious tourists of the “murder theater,” and Shannon lives as an outcast. Her friend Alec convinces her to try to change her public image with a broadcast interview, but they soon discover that there may be more to her sister’s death than at first glance.
The actors carefully depict the nuances in how each character has been affected by the media coverage of Shannon’s sister’s death. It incorporates multimedia elements in the form of recorded interviews with the townspeople spliced in between live stage acting. The audience pieces together this information in order to solve the mystery alongside the characters.
But these interviews are not as reliable as they’re framed to be by the people behind them — they were initially edited to wrongly depict Shannon in a negative light, and the audience’s reliance on these same interviews to deliver trustworthy information encourages us to reflect on how we consume media.
The play began as Volpov’s pandemic passion project, so it is heavily influenced by his experiences during this time.
“During the pandemic, I was really troubled by the number of conspiracy theories that I saw online that kept popping up,” said Volpov. “My research came to show that when people are feeling isolated, when people feel anxious, that's when they become more conspiratorial in their thinking.”
Tragedy, Slander, & Wine shines a light on how the media can spread misinformation. Editing can easily frame a person in a negative light, with rumors and lies sometimes presented as the truth. The play encourages its audience to become more aware of the media they’re consuming, and the danger that comes when our information is not as reliable as we think.
“The play touches on social media as a really disruptive and damaging tool, and also talks about traditional media telling a story that perhaps is different from the experience of the characters on stage,” said Volpov.
“It's a conflicting world that we live in with the modern media, in that you are trying to tell the truth,” said Drew Ogle, who plays the role of Alec. “But at the same time, everybody needs to make money… they need to get that excitement [and] hype that you can get with some stories online.”
Tragedy, Slander, & Wine is running from November 15–19 at the Nest on Granville Island. Tickets are available here.