Silk Road director Dominic Shaw - 'Soon we'll be paying for theatre tickets with Bitcoin'

Dominic Shaw

We all know Bitcoin is the future. It created teenage millionaires last year as investors and tech-heads tapped into the earning potential of the digital cryptocurrency. But for all the buzz and hearsay, do you actually see Bitcoin used in the real world?

You’ll see it in action at Trafalgar Studios this month. Alex Oates’ play has been funded in part thanks to an anonymous Bitcoin donation years ago, which is rather fitting, as the play follows a Geordie schoolboy who finds himself caught up in the murky world of the dark web.

We spoke to director Dominic Shaw about Silk Road (How to Buy Drugs Online), whether he’s ever accessed the dark web, and whether we’ll all be using crypto to buy theatre tickets in the future.

Silk Road (How to Buy Drugs Online) is at Trafalgar Studios until 1st September.

Silk Road (How to Buy Drugs Online) tickets are available now.

What’s the main idea behind the play?

A young tech-head called Bruce who lives in Newcastle with his Nan, and in order to win the affection of a girl, he ends up becoming an online drug dealer. It’s nothing about the glorification of drugs; it’s the fact that he gets sucked into this world where we can be good at something. As the play was being written, the website Silk Road, which is he uses in the play, gets shut down. Ross Albrick, the guy who founded it, got put on trial and in prison. Alex [Oates, playwright] used that as impetus as he was interested in the ideas behind Silk Road, specifically how it operated above or beneath the law, however you look at it.

When Alex came to you with the play, how much did you know about the dark web?

Absolutely nothing. He sent me a monologue: it was 20 pages of just one man talking about Silk Road. I was just like: ‘how does this even work?’ What I loved about it was how there’s this young guy which society failed, was trying to find his way in the world, and a place where he could operate and be successful. It was the idea of this one actor playing 5 different characters which attracted me.

As the director, how did you approach that challenge?

We didn’t want to make it predictable and have an actor with a laptop projected. We don’t actually show any of the online stuff, it’s just talked about and referenced to. It’s all about what happens to the people on the ground, so it was finding a language to express that.

During your research for the play, did you venture into the realms of the dark web (for research, of course…)?

When we did the play in Edinburgh 4 years ago, we did sit down and as an experiment, we went on to see what we could do and who we could talk to. What we found out is that we used the basic channels of searching but this whole dark web with its coding, is just insane and there’s a whole world of possibilities out there. Alex chatted online to users of Silk Road, and that’s where we got the bulk of our funding, through anonymous donations.

It’s billed as the first play funded by Bitcoin. How does that work?

We set up a crowdfunder to take the play up to Edinburgh, but we ended up getting an anonymous Bitcoin donation which obviously came out of our research. It seemed really fitting, so we ran with it. The amazing thing is that the 2 Bitcoin donated back then, was at one point worth £30,000.  Alex has a portfolio now of loads of cryptocurrencies. He cashed out the donation to fund the play, but it’s so volatile. Some days he’ll say he lost five-figures, and the next day it’s doubled again. Coming into Trafalgar Studios, we’ve been able to use some of that Bitcoin money, as well as some other investments.

You seem quite keen to emphasise the personal elements of the play. It’s the second show in Trafalgar Studios within a year to have a strong Geordie voice, after The Red Lion. Silk Road has been described as a Geordie Goodfellas, would you agree with that?

Kind of, we like to say its Breaking Bad-meets-Byker Grove; it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek and fun. People come thinking it’s this cautionary hard-faced drama, but it’s actually fun and the colourful characters we meet along the way make it very tongue-in-cheek. I’m a bit of an outsider though because I don’t know all the Geordieisms, but they definitely try to make it as Geordie as possible.

Back to tech, do you have any predictions for cryptocurrency might influence theatre in the future?

I think when big ticketing companies have the option to pay with cryptocurrency, it will totally change the market. It won’t happen within the next 20 years as it’s the older generation are the ones going to the theatre; they’re not really into it. But I think when our generation grows, then absolutely we’ll be paying for tickets with Bitcoin.

Photo credit: Nick Rutter

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