Touched by technology

New musical examines personal connection in the digital age

At the risk of sounding obvious it’s an established fact that technology impacts every facet of our lives today including our interpersonal relationships. Forte Musical Theatre Guild explores that reality — and both its good and its bad sides — in the upcoming show Touch Me: Songs for a (dis)Connected Age .

“It’s an evening of songs about how technology can bring us together or make us more isolated than ever. It’s a double-edged sword” says Joe Slabe Forte’s artistic director.

JP Thibodeau directs the show’s cast of four including Christian Goutsis Lisa Lennox Scott Shpeley and Selina Wong and Slabe acts as musical director for the play which features 18 original songs in a revue format. “What ties the evening together is the theme” says Slabe adding that the numbers flow into one another with minimal if any dialogue. “These are great musical theatre songs. Each one has a narrative.”

Slabe issued a call to composers last fall to submit original numbers based on that theme. “There’s a whole little community of ex-pat Canadian writers studying musical theatre in New York City…. I found some great material as a result of the call.” Of the 30 or so submissions Slabe selected the 18 that would make their way into the show including pieces by Calgary’s Ethan Cole and Grant Tilly and contributed four numbers himself then arranged them in order..

While Touch Me explores the many ways in which technology affects our lives it also takes audiences on a relationship journey leading them through teen infatuation to young adults looking for love to married couples. For example there’s a number about a teen who writes 17 drafts of a text message before she sends it to her crush. On the other end of the age spectrum there’s a number about a widower whose daughter creates an online profile for him on a dating site.

Then there’s a more personal piece called “3000 Miles Away” about a couple who Skype every night in order to stay connected despite their busy travel schedules. “It’s based on my life with my partner” says Slabe. “We both have to travel for work but we always talk every day. Initially we would talk by phone. Now we Skype.

“It’s bittersweet though. You can have this marvelous conversation and you feel you’re in the same room but you’re not.”

One of the downsides of technology is addressed in a song called “It’s All Online” about a guy who spends so much time on his blog Facebook Twitter Instagram etc. that he doesn’t have time for anything else. “Technology makes you able to connect instantly with everyone but it makes so many demands on your time. A lot of people feel this overabundance of technology takes time away from face-to-face interaction as we spend more time trying to manage our online lives” Slabe says.

The topics also vary widely from the Internet’s “sleazier” side (in one song a guy falls in love with a webcam girl in Lithuania ) to more “humourous” observations like “Write a Letter” which is sung from the point-of-view of four mail carriers. “It’s about how technology has almost made them obsolete. They implore you to write a letter so they can keep their jobs” says Slabe adding that the song’s composer is a former letter carrier himself.

Unlike most technology though Slabe expects Touch Me: Songs for a (dis)Connected Age won’t be outdated anytime soon. “This show is timeless. The technology may change but it’s here to stay — it might not be Facebook in the future but the impact is going to be similar.”