Take Your Seats, Take Out Your Phones: “After The Tone” Brings SMS To The Stage

Before her performance, Cara Rose DeFabio asks her audience to kindly turn on their phones. Texting during the show is strongly encouraged. Audience member’s ringers should be on, and phones must remain accessible at all times. Cara lets the instructions sink in for a second, and then starts her show.

DeFabio’s, “After The Tone” takes the telephone to a place where it’s normally barred – the theatre. “After The Tone” explores how technology is changing our everyday relationships, and Cara uses that very technology throughout the show. She texts her audience using Twilio SMS. They text her back personal stories about death, love and family which she receives and recites on stage in real time.

“Access and purpose are the key to the success of art,” says Cara. She knows her audience members have personal stories about death, technology and relationships — that’s why they’re at the show. But, getting them to share is tricky. Using SMS, audience members can text Cara without having to reveal themselves to their fellow audience members.  The first time they hear their secrets read aloud on stage is powerful. “There’s something intimate about reading [texts] and adding your own inflection to it,” says Cara.

After The Tone

Taking The Stage…Remotely

Cara’s first “art meets tech” experiment back in 2008 was part accident, part ingenuity. She was stuck at work and couldn’t make it to her show, so she Skyped in. From that performance on, Cara tried out different platforms during her shows: Skype, Google Voice, Twitter and more. But, she needed a more immediate way to reach her audience.

Writing plays is one thing, writing code is another. When Cara wanted to build out a Twilio app to power “After The Tone”’s audience interaction, she needed some help. Cara called an old friend she met at the SF Fringe Festival, Code For America Fellow, Andrew Hyder. He worked with Cara to not only build her app but show her how to run it at any show, in any theatre. Now, she can hand a stagehand, production manager or whoever behind the scenes and show them how the Twilio app works.

To Andrew, the technology powering the interaction plays a small role in the grand scheme of the show. “The tech was easy, but Twilio made it easier. It’s not just the newest shiny thing, or ads [that matters]. You’re able to communicate — it’s powerful.”

Learn more about Cara and browse through her pictures of “After The Tone” here