One-Person Show in a One-Person World
Photo Cred: Marley’s Shutter
Last night I performed my one man show, REEL, at Theatre Row in New York City. For those of you who don’t know, REEL is about a man named Harold, a fun-loving, young man who is about to go on tour with his punk-rock band. He is also trying to woo the heart of an Irish girl. An eccentric narrator, who calls himself “Master,” takes us on Harold’s journey, serving as the narrator to the constant hurdles Harold encounters. Or so it seems.
As engaged as Harold seems to be with the audience and his life at the beginning of the show, things take a drastic turn as he becomes more preoccupied with what’s happening on his phone than with what’s around him. Master takes the reins and finds delight in Harold’s descent all the way up to Harold’s social departure from the stage. REEL explores the influence that technology has on human relationships today.
Overall, the audience really seemed to enjoy the performance, which is great! I was fortunate enough to have a great crew helping me out and the show, for the most part, went very smoothly and was a wild good time.
The reason I created this piece is to spread awareness around this growing issue. Sherry Turkle in her book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, calls the technology situation an “assault on empathy.” In a world that is constantly living in fear and anxiety, we glue our eyes to our devices to inform ourselves on the latest gossip when we should be paying attention to each other. Turkle quotes, “Face to face conversation is the most human and humanizing thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy.”
Have we forgotten how to listen? It often feels like we are all in our own one-person worlds, living from our smartphones. We have become uncomfortable with stillness; with silence. If there is even a breath or beat in a conversation, out come the phones to fill that void.
At the beginning of REEL, I experiment with this silence. When the audience first meets Harold, he is rehearsing for an upcoming gig on his drum set. As he finishes practicing, he sits on the couch, staring and smiling at the audience, searching for words to say, trying to strike up a conversation. There is that momentary awkwardness that, while somewhat awkward, is very much alive at the same time. Do these moments still exist? Simon Sinek says that there is “systemic impatience” in the world today where we cannot allow these moments of silence to exist because of our need to fill that empty space.
The smartphone is a social construct. I’ve talked to many people who have said something along the lines of, “I can’t live without my smartphone!” Well…that’s not true. In essence, we don’t really need them. Society says we need them. In crafting REEL, I studied Expressionism, which was an artistic movement at the beginning of the 20th century that aimed to depict subjective emotions that objectscan arise within a person. I won’t bore you with the details, but this artistic movement involves tension with material conditions. How does the smartphone effect our behavior? How does it convey emotions through us, whether it be a text message, a Facebook post, or Snapchat?
Another big aspect of REEL is its metatheatricality. “What is this, Pat? An essay? Here I just wanted to sit down, enjoy my cup o’ Joe, and read your amazing blog and now your throwing meta theta theta fee fie foe fum banana at me! What baloney!” Meta-theatre is essentially a style where the theatre reveals and plays itself. It constantly makes aware that you are indeed in a theatre. The lines between reality and illusion are blurred. Bertolt Brecht, a highly influential playwright and theatre director from the first half of the 20th century, developed what’s called the “alienation effect,” which is a tactic used to prevent the audience from losing itself completely in the narrative. A play that utilizes the “alienation effect” asks the audience to think critically, instead of simply having emotions about the piece. The character of Master in REEL constantly reminds the audience that they are in a theatre watching a show that isn’t real. Or is it? (Mwahahaha)
This leads me to the question: when it comes to smartphones, the internet, and social media, are not the lines between reality and illusion blurred? Sure, we may craft our own narratives in reality, but we can tell a whole other story in the online world. One who may seem bland and mundane in person, may be a hero on Facebook. Social media, in a lot of ways, is a type of theatre. We are acting in a sense, or rather projecting our best selves forward. We are projecting what we want to project and skewing the public’s perception of us. Hey, you can argue that I’m doing that now and you may be thinking, “Man…this guy has to cool it with all of these Low Tech Trek posts!”
So how much of the online world is truly real, and how much of it is illusion? Are we fully present in reality? Or are we living within the illusion of our smartphone, in our own one-person shows in our one-person worlds? Comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts!