Review: rihannaboi95 (Suburban Beast)


Suburban Beast streams theatre in their latest live internet production based in Toronto

Suburban Beast refers to rihannaboi95 as “a viral performance”. The show invites viewers to watch a live performance from the privacy of their own computers, broadcasted as it is on Ustream. rihannaboi95 will be streamed nightly from a Toronto bedroom at 8pm from April 23rd – April 28th, 2013.

Owais Lightwala plays Sunny, a teenager who creates YouTube videos based on Rihanna’s music videos. He makes himself up and emulates her dance moves. Sunny deals candidly with bullying, queer identity, and the pain of self-invention via art. Lightwala performs the piece wonderfully, embodying the character completely. It’s much like film, as the performance is all in the eyes. With a lesser actor the show would read false.

It’s difficult to define what rihannaboi95 is. It is ‘live’ in the sense that it’s performed in the moment. However, the traditional idea of theatre takes into consideration the relationship between performer and audience, specifically the interaction between the two – something not possible while broadcasting over the internet. The relationship becomes, obviously, one-sided. However, part of what gives Sunny strength is the reaction of his YouTube audience, namely comments, likes, dislikes, and view counts. It is, perhaps, a new definition of the audience-performer relationship, one for the modern age.

Something that struck me, in the melding of live performance and YouTube confessional, was how rehearsed rihannaboi95 sounded. When people speak, we use a lot of filler, the “ums” and “uhs” that connect our thoughts. This is particularly prevalent in the kind of YouTube video that rihannaboi95 portrays. The performance had almost none of that, which is typical of a theatrical monologue. This was not a good or bad thing, it merely stood out for me as something that highlighted the difference in mediums.

The only thing that really bothered me about rihannaboi95 was the prevalence of the ads. It was supremely irritating to have emotional moments obliterated by the same stupid tire ad every five minutes. Get rid of the intrusive marketing and rihannaboi95 is a play deserving of a “high view count”.


One thought on “Review: rihannaboi95 (Suburban Beast)”

  1. Agree with the review on everything except: I watched tonight and there were no ads tonight? Maybe it depends how you watch or…?

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