Female Friendship and the AI Monster
We chat with Racheal Ofori about her new play FLIP!, directed by Emily Aboud, which centres on the relationship of two young Black women and their craving for social media fame and wealth
The Skinny: Could you introduce us to your new play, FLIP!?
Racheal Ofori: FLIP! is about two really good friends, Carleen and Crystal, who are in their 20s. They're on the equivalent of YouTube and they're making vlogs and they get into trouble, so they leave YouTube. Then they join FLIP!, which is this new app that is taking the world by storm. The idea is that you need to make lots of content to see money come in. They’re making videos of trending dance moves and slogans. They're really rolling with it, building a hype and an audience. Then Carleen seems to get more love from the fans and she takes off a lot more, which obviously has a knock-on effect on the friendship. Carleen ends up signing with this content management agency, who have these AI ways in which they're exploring making content. One of the ways is that, because we're constantly putting stuff out online ourselves, you can have an AI key, which is your image footprint online. They’re like, “We're going to make videos for you, we have enough footage and algorithms to make content without you. But don't worry, nothing goes out without your approval.” Ethics start to shift, but it's a good paycheck at the end. You see this monster grow.
What drew you to the subject matter?
The play was commissioned by Soho Theatre as part of Soho Six, just before we went into lockdown. Everybody was online and I was always really interested in exploring female relationships. It was also just watching loads of content and seeing TikTok take off. Since that first draft, the play has been developed and AI is very much in conversation right now – the ideas around music and being an artist: somebody can use an AI algorithm to put your voice on, singing lyrics you haven’t sung. We think we're fully in this digital age now, but I think it’s only the beginning. It's all just kind of influenced the stuff that's come out. I've tried to write uncensored.
How did you and director Emily Aboud meet?
We were looking for creative collaborators. I wanted somebody who could be a bit of a dramaturg eye, also someone that worked with movement onstage, because I really want it to be a dynamic play. I want it to be bonkers. To be honest, that’s my brief! Then Fuel [co-commissioners of the show] suggested Emily, and I had luckily seen a production of hers called Pink Lemonade at the Bush. It felt like a nice fit.
You are in rehearsals, right?
So, only three days in. We had a look at the model box and what this Internet world will look like onstage because it's not someone's bedroom, but we also don't want it to be like The Matrix. We've also gone through the script, looked at the units, beats, shifts in energy, and hopefully tomorrow we’ll get on our feet, because there are moments of dance. We need to figure out what those are. There's poetic moments that could be raps. It’s just finding the language together.
How are you feeling?
At one point I was desperate for certainty and I’m coming out of that. I’m like: “Let’s just lean into the fact that you don't know. Because most of the time, you're not going to know.” That's what I'm trying to bring to my approach here. Just be like, “Okay, nothing's fixed.” I'm kind of precious about some things, but if bits need to get cut or moved, I'm happy with that. Let's just see what happens.
FLIP!, Fuel in association with Alphabetti Theatre, Summerhall, Edinburgh, 30 Oct-4 Nov