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Friday, 18 August, 2000, 09:14 GMT 10:14 UK
Text messages take centre stage
Mobile phone
Mobile phones abound - even in theatres
By BBC News Online's Jatinder Sidhu

Theatre fans can now sample one of the highlights of the Edinburgh Festival without leaving their armchair - or their seat on the bus.

Static, an new play at the Fringe Festival, features a unique extension to stage performances with an additional narrative told using mobile phone text messaging.

Unlimited Theatre
Static's 'Male' slowly goes mad working in a call centre
While theatre-goers see a story unfold on stage, subscribers to a messaging service can get a running commentary direct to their handsets.

Playwright Chris Thorpe writes the messages, a one-sided conversation from each of the characters' on their separate lives.


Two characters from the stage production, identified simply as Male and Female, send short teaser pieces of text to subscribers at regular intervals during the production's run.

Users can choose to subscribe to the narrative of the male or female characters.

Sample messages include "i'm on the bus. up 4 a pint later?" from Male - who writes in "test messagese".

How to take part
You need an SMS-equipped mobile phone which can make international calls
Send the message "static maleon" or "static femaleone" to 00 41 793 181 020
The daily messages - up to four a day - are free
Unsubscribe by sending "static maleoff" or "static femaleoff" to the same number
Subscribe and unsubscribe messages are charged at local rates
This will not work for One2One phones
Female, who writes in English, comes up with lines like: "I was lying to myself. He died and I have to go on living. For now."

Unlimited Theatre's Alex Gammie told BBC News Online: "The play concerns a man in urban Britain coming to terms with an old love affair, and a woman involved in some hideous conflict in Europe, which could be Kosovo.

"We slowly build up an image of their separate lives which collide at the end when he turns on the TV, sees her on the screen and their eyes meet. It's about how we digest news," she said.

Creative potential

Test, a lottery-funded project based in Huddersfield, is providing the technology behind the play.

It aims to research the creative potential of digital technologies to provide access for arts groups and the local community.

"Technologies like SMS and WAP will have a massive effect on the way we communicate in public," said the organisation's artistic director, Matt Locke.

"It's vital the cultural opportunities are explored - by artists and writers - as well as the commercial," explained Matt Locke, artistic director of Test.


Unlimited Theatre
Extract from the play: "In the supermarket I buy commodities. Nothing smells of anything. I join a queue."
Although the messages are received by a wider "audience" of subscribers passively, the play extends the promise of interactive technology.

A similar idea would be having the Big Brother housemates sending comments on the show directly to your pocket or handbag.

Spoof television listings website TV Go Home had these ideas in mind for its fictitious programme, Text Message Theatre.

The adult humour site lists phone numbers for characters and includes the listing: "A cast of actors clutching mobile phones read lines and enact stage directions being sent in by viewers at home."

Big Brother's producers, Endemol, have recently bought a stake in the site's creators, Zeppotron. So maybe we will all be taking part in Text Message Theatre soon.

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