Interview: Javaad Alipoor on technology, excess and following Tehran’s rich kids on Instagram

Javaad Alipoor wants you to watch his play and scroll through Instagram for its duration.  

Seriously, you don’t have to switch your phone off or put it in airplane mode, although muting your group chats may be a good idea so you can avoid any judgment from your fellow audience members.

Instagram is the central component of his play Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran. The play explores the excessive behaviour of the wealthy elite in Iran and is inspired by a fatal car crash involving Mohammad Hossein Rabbani-Shirazi and Parivash Akbarzadeh, members of the so-called ‘Rich Kids of Tehran’ who have an account dedicated to them.

A Porsche smashed-up as a result of drink driving hardly complies with the message that the Iranian ruling classes want to project out into the world, and the incident highlighted divides between rich and poor, old and young, restraint and excess not just in Iran but all across the world.

By creating an Instagram account which the audience can follow, Javaad attempts to unravel the actions of the rich kids and how these events came to be.

“We built this Instagram feed that us and the audience dive into and that feed goes further and further back into history through their lives, through stuff about colonialism in the Middle East…mobile phone technology…and the actual history of shopping malls in Tehran that you legitimately get for the price of your ticket.”

Javaad describes the play as ‘post-documentary theatre’, whereby both him and the audience go on this journey together. Using Instagram not only breaks down that fourth wall, but it allows people to be immersed into that world of the rich kids.

“I’m interested in form theatricality and I think that the form of work should always be in conversation with what it’s about and what the content is,” Javaad reveals. “[While researching] I dive into that world and I want to take that audience with me.”

You can experience the play in two ways, as Javaad explains: “You can just come and see the show and watch us doing our thing and watch other members of the audience using Instagram and that’s one way to see it.

“[Or] If you’re engaging in the Instagram stuff, you follow the Instagram account we’ve created, and you basically scroll down with us and see if you like the fictionalised version of where we’ve been.”

Javaad hopes that the play can help people navigate through the complex issues present in the world today but in a way that leaves them mulling over the ideas again and again after seeing it.

“It’s about big things: it’s about why the gap between the rich and poor is growing, about why it feels like we can do nothing about climate change, it’s about why human beings are obsessed with pictures and images …it’s about those things we feel stuck in. I hope it gives people a shape to think about that stuff in.”

Rich Kids is the second play in a trilogy and follows The Believers are But Brothers which used WhatsApp to explore extremism. As Javaad explains, these plays are “about how emerging digital technology, rather than releasing kind of futuristic ways of living together, is actually releasing quite archaic things.”

Javaad seems to present the audience with an unspoken question: does digital technology actually make our lives better?

Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran is at HOME from Wednesday 23 October until Saturday 2 November.

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