TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:
OK, I want you to imagine for a moment "The Office" but in St. Petersburg, Russia. And instead of Dunder Mifflin, it's the Russian government's Internet Research Agency. A new online play called "Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy" does just that. Jeff Lunden reports.
JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: In 2016, playwright Sarah Gancher started to notice tweets with strange misspellings and odd comments showing up on her Facebook feed. When she later read about the Internet Research Agency, it all made sense.
SARAH GANCHER: And I realized that there's this whole building full of people in St. Petersburg where there are people that are paid to sit there and write fake news and to write Facebook posts and create memes. Their job is to pretend to be different people, stage fights. They're essentially playwrights. They have my job.
LUNDEN: So Gancher, who's a fan of workplace comedy, started to create a play both dark and funny that imagines the lives of five people who work on the troll farm.
GANCHER: They go out to karaoke. They have drinks. They have arguments about workplace policy.
(SOUNDBITE OF THEATERWORKS PLAY, "RUSSIAN TROLL FARM")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You think you're going to - what? - start a civil war in America?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I don't think it's that hard.
LUNDEN: Their job is to sow discord in the American electoral process, and Gancher uses some actual tweets in the play.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) People for justice will never support Hillary Clinton. Not sure whether she or Donald Trump is the lesser evil - #BernieTrumpDebate #BernOrBust.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Crystal Johnson, Clinton's true face - KKK leader claims he gave $20K to Hillary Clinton campaign.
LUNDEN: Co-director Elizabeth Williamson says the characters in "Russian Troll Farm" don't just troll the Americans. They troll each other in a way that mimics the larger politics.
ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON: So that we have, on a small scale and on a large scale, the same themes playing out, the same attacks, the same takedowns.
LUNDEN: "Russian Troll Farm" is being done live on Zoom, but it's being mixed together to create the illusion that the actors are all occupying the same space. Danielle Slavick plays a former journalist.
DANIELLE SLAVICK: You're often making eye contact with someone that obviously is not in the room with you. And you can forget whether that person is now, in this scene, supposed to be to your right or your left.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Or tell me about, you know, journalism.
SLAVICK: (As character) Oh, journalism - I used to love it. Now I hate it.
LUNDEN: Playwright Sarah Gancher says she was interested in the addictive aspect of social media, how people are stimulated by negative emotions across the political spectrum. And she says the real people who worked on the troll farm four years ago did that by telling good stories.
GANCHER: During the 2016 election, there were Russian trolls that had become essentially conservative pundits, you know, that were followed and retweeted and pushed out far and wide by people. You know, I'm very positive that the same thing is true today and we just haven't found out about it yet.
LUNDEN: "Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy" is being presented by nonprofit theaters in Connecticut and Arkansas and is being performed live online through Saturday. Encore presentations will be available until the eve of the election.
For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.
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