Kieran Hunt plays Jeremy Lawson, operator of an online drug market living in exile, in Oasis by Nanaimo playwright Drew McLachlan. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo Fringe Festival show tells story of an internet drug trafficker in exile

Local playwright Drew McLachlan makes Nanaimo Fringe debut with multimedia show ‘Oasis’

Nanaimo playwright Drew McLachlan is making his Fringe Festival debut with a play based on the story of the founder of the internet’s most prominent but short-lived contraband black market.

From 2011 to 2013, Ross Ulbricht operated the Silk Road, a hidden website on which users anonymously purchased illegal goods and services using Bitcoins. In 2013 the FBI shut down the site and Ulbricht is serving life in prison for money laundering, computer hacking and conspiracy to traffic narcotics and fake IDs.

After reading a biography of Ulbricht, McLachlan was inspired to bring that story to the stage.

“He had to give up every other aspect of his life to run this giant drug market and he had to move away for a while and ended up getting multiple life sentences,” McLachlan said. “So just this idea of somebody who’s so driven by their convictions that they’re willing to just give up everything, that’s kind of the part of his story that really interested me.”

In his play, Oasis, McLachlan takes “a lot of creative liberties” in his adaptation of Ulbricht’s life story. The play stars Nanaimo actor Kieran Hunt, a longtime friend and collaborator of McLachlan’s, as Jeremy Lawson, the founder of an illegal online drug market living in exile and reflecting upon his sacrifices.

“In certain parts I’ve taken from his life directly and other stuff I’ve made up and I’ve kind of focused it onto certain aspects of his character,” McLachlan said.

In the play Hunt is seated at a computer, with a projection screen behind representing the contents of his monitor. The screen will also show clips from Lawson’s life that have led to this moment.

Hunt said he enjoys the play because it deals with an internet culture he grew up with.

“It’s actually quite nice not only to work with my friends but to do a piece that’s a little bit political, a little bit about the [drug] market but a lot about things that I grew up around,” he said.

Oasis features five other actors, but Hunt is the only one who appears onstage. The other characters, played by Taye Gonsalves, Jay Smitka, Douglas Mtatabikwa, Jon Greenway and Tyler Stephens, will appear in video clips.

“The whole ideas is the character is living in exile and his only communication is through his computer, though Skype and stuff like that…” McLachlan said. “So he’ll be talking to other characters, and the other characters are prerecorded, and he’s responding to them and they’re going back and forth between the stage and the screen.”

McLachlan said he’s “way too busy to be nervous” about debuting his first major theatrical production. He said the Nanaimo Fringe Festival is a great launching point for Oasis and he hopes audience members appreciate the play’s creative multimedia format.

“I’m hoping people will see the play and say, ‘Wow, theatre’s not boring,’” he said. “They might say, ‘Hey, this play kind of sucked, but it was fun.’”

Other local productions in this year’s Fringe Festival include Carolyn Thomas’s Narcissistic B*tch (the Musical) and the Around Town Tellers’ Around the World in 60 Minutes.

WHAT’S ON … Nanaimo Fringe Festival free preview at Harbour City Theatre, 25 Victoria Rd., on Thursday, Aug. 8 at 8 p.m. Festival continues through Aug. 17. Individual show ticket $12, festival pass $50. Attendees must purchase $5 membership button. Tickets available online.

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