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Silk Road: The Play

VICE is onto the documentary, yours truly is bringing a book out. But who would’ve guessed that the most notorious online black market in the world could be coming to a theatre near you?

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Emerging playwright Alex Oates plans to bring his one-man play to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. Like many young writers, he’s hoping to raise the funds for it – at least GBP11,000 – via crowdfunding. But his approach is a little different.

‘I want to have the first play funded by bitcoin’ says 26-year-old Alex. ‘How cool would that be?’

He won’t be the first person to ask the bitcoin community to help kickstart a project, but he may garner more interest than most – because Alex’s play is called Silk Road. It’s a fictional tale based on the most notorious online black market in the world, which was instrumental in bitcoin’s early rise in value.

The promo for the play claims that it ‘both controversially instructs budding online drug dealers and cautions us against the dangers of the dark web’.

‘The play is quite instructional in that it talks about exactly how you go about buying drugs on Silk Road,’ admits Alex. ‘It tells you how to download Tor and how to get bitcoins, things like that. That’s one theme. But its also about drug safety and the reality about what its like when you buy things like street cocaine which is often cut. And as well as the drugs and Silk Road, its about being popular and growing up and young love and things like that’.

It’s a comedy ‘sort of’ about a young Newcastle man, Bruce, from a council estate who lives with his gran. Gran’s eBay business booms overnight when he starts selling wraps of cocaine in the tea cozies she sells. Bruce finds the popularity and acceptance he never had among the community of Silk Road. But things go south when Ross Ulbricht (allegedly the Dread Pirate Roberts, owner of the site) is arrested, Silk Road is shuttered and Bruce owes a lot of money to some very real local drug dealers. Actor James Baxter plays all of the parts.

So why a play about Silk Road?

‘I found out about Silk Road about a year and a half ago when somebody told me about it because they’d used it,’ he told me, ‘and it just completely blew my mind that it was possible to buy drugs on the internet’. A drug reform advocate – he’s a fan of David Nutt – Alex was curious what the online platform could mean for the drug debate. ‘I just don’t think people took it seriously enough in the press and the way its been handled. I think that Silk Road has a massive potential to change the way that we look at drug policy’.

Alex began lurking the site, asking questions and interacting with the members and realised there was a story there he could use in his art. At first, he didn’t tell the other members about his plans for a play as he was afraid of a hostile reaction. ‘I just sat on the forums asking questions about general things. Mostly about postage – that’s quite a part of the play, how you actually receive drugs in the post, how they get past customs and things like that’.

Recently Alex came out to the Silk Road forums as author of a play. He was surprised and pleased that some of the first suggestions to him were to put links to harm reduction websites and services on his home page. ‘You know these are really discerning users. They really do care about people, and I think that’s really important to point out because the media really demonises them,’ he says. ‘They really demonise anybody who speaks up and makes a case for drugs. Because it’s an easy political point I guess’.

Alex says he doesn’t want to be seen as promoting buying and selling drugs online, but has aimed to be as balanced and accurate as possible in his portrayal of Silk Road, whilst still providing audiences with an entertaining and informative hour.

‘I think Silk Road is brilliant in the way that it gives you the opportunity to exercise your own personal freedom and liberty,’ he said. ‘I think it’s dangerous in that it’s quite hard to realise what you’re doing from your bedroom at the click of a button from the perspective of exactly how illegal it is’.

Since coming out on the Silk Road forums, the play already has a bitcoin sponsor. ‘We got two bitcoins this morning which I was incredibly excited about. That’s from one person. I don’t know who it was from, but I’m thinking it was from a Silk Road user.’

Directed by Dominic Shaw, the play is also supported and funded by The Kevin Spacey Foundation.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival runs from 1-25 August 2014.

Bitcoin donations for the play can be made to 1Dj3Czz2ELLKauhgEBzutzq1F2xwrk74YJ



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