For this week's post, a very vivid and specific moment spring to mind, however, it isn't a theatrical performance per say, but rather a museum experience with a painting. I had always rolled my eyes at contemporary art in museums and mostly walked through the exhibits to make fun of them. Sometimes, I'd see a drawing that just looked like scribbles on a paper. Other times, the artwork was a toilet just sitting in the museum in the same exhibit as the scribble paper. This kind of art doesn't always communicate something of importance to me; instead it feels like a joke that an artist is pulling on me and other museum-goers because we think it's trying to "say something" when it's just a banana taped to the wall with duct-tape.
One time, however, I was at the Seattle Art Museum and I was on my way through doing my usual overlooking tour of the contemporary art when I came to one very predominant painting. It was a large square with solid white and black paint split by one line down the middle diagonally. At first, I said something like "it's just black and white paint. How is this hard?" and I stayed there waiting for my family to catch up to me. As I stood there and waited, I kept looking at this gigantic painting that seemed so simple. Then it hit me. And I began to cry. The longer I looked at this painting, the more it started to have meaning. It symbolized a great divide between blacks and whites in our country and our world. It symbolized the simplicity of problems and how only having two options for solutions is largely ridiculous. It symbolized the injustices, fights for liberty, and daily struggles that were everywhere in my sphere of influence but that I was blind to really seeing because I judged them too quickly.
That experience changed my way of looking at modern/contemporary art. At first, it seems ridiculous or silly or too simple, but when given some attention and some attempt at understanding the art, it can actually say and inspire a lot of things. Learning to be an advocate for the text in my Script Analysis class last semester helped me do the same with art. I begin my experience of art with the expectation that the artist put something meaningful into their creation and I can get out of it what I want. I can judge it and roll my eyes or I can take a harder look at it and try to understand something deeper.
Another good example of an experience like that for myself was also in Script Analysis after discussing Sarah Kane's Cleansed. I was fervently upset that I had to experience reading that play at first because it was disturbing and troublesome and had a great lack of hope that I could muster from the story. However, after discussing it in class with my colleagues, I found that it had more to it than the surface level read that I did. My approach was quickly withdrawn as I didn't want to engage with the text beyond what I already had prepared to engage. It asked too much emotionally and viscerally of me, that I blocked it off.
Avant-Garde Theatre and the various "ism" movements are full of opportunities to learn something, explore an idea, simply play, and/or comment about social issues. Much of the Avant-Garde theatre is funny in its absurdity and strangeness and great material both for revelation and for comedy. I want to finish this blog with a video that makes fun of the Avant-Garde theatre, because we shouldn't always take ourselves so seriously. Sometimes, it's okay to laugh at ourselves and our movements, too. This video is called "Dicknanigans," a play on words with the word "dick" and "shenanigans" where Key & Peele hit each other in the nuts in a series of vignettes to make commentary about society, love, and consumerism. Enjoy!
What is "the real me?"
Societies all over the globe are obsessed with a digital image. Social Media sites are easily used to portray whatever you want it to. If you want to seem like an adventurous person that travels and does outdoor activities, you can create an account where all you do is post and share photos about hiking and traveling or even ones of you traveling to places you've been. Social media is where you can portray whatever image you want of yourself and people will buy into it if they don't see you very often.
I get "you look so happy" and "you seem like you're always having a good time" from friends back home all the time because I mainly post my accomplishments, my successes, and my adventures on social media. Why? Because that's how I want to be seen. I don't want to share my depressing moments or my down days with everyone. Only a few get to really see that because they interact with me on a daily basis, but life isn't always what I put online. I only show a small lens on these sites because that's how I want to be seen.
This takes me back to our discussion of masks by Erving Goffman in “Belief in the Part One Is Playing." from his book From The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. The internet is a mask, a tool we can use to present any version of ourselves to our family, friends, followers, fans, and the world. Are my social media accounts the real me? Absolutely. Are they the total accumulation of all the parts of myself? Absolutely not. Social media is just one of many selves/masks (and sometimes different sites display different selves/masks) that we share with the world.
A good example of this is of an actor who I am a big fan of following their journey. Her name is Desi Oakley, she played Jenna in the US tour of Waitress that I was fortunate to see in Seattle, WA, and she has two different Facebook accounts, one for her "real" self, and one for her "actor" self. Both of these pages are very different in 1) who can connect to them, 2) what she posts on each one, and 3) what each account reveals about her as a person.
Ms. Oakley is a broadway actor and she must market herself in a specific way that appeals to directors, fans, and other creatives in a way that continues to book her work. She presents a joyful, peace-loving, down-to-earth woman with confidence, skill, training, and passion that can do anything. The roles she shares loudly and proudly are female leads in big-box musicals, and she shares how wonderful her voice sounds and how beautifully she dances on her actor page often. These details all continue to bolster her image as a talented performer. And her personal Facebook is generally private, with the most recent post visible to the public all the way back to 2017, indicating that everything she shares on this private page is now only shared amongst friends on the social media site.
And then there are fan pages on other sites like Instagram that aren't run by the person themselves, but also portray whatever truth the fan-page-creator can get their hands on. Perhaps that's a photograph of a performance of hers or a publication of her image online somewhere that is reposted. These pages also display another "real" self/mask that could be real or could be fake. Whatever it is, it's curated to make us see what they want us to. Many of them also claim to be "the real" person, but in fact aren't.
Creating separate profiles to portray separate parts of oneself (or create/design oneself entirely) is a regular and fascinating practice of creatives. Photographers, models, fitness gurus, and dancers all do it and tailor their profiles to sometimes present their real selves in controlled doses or to fabricate a totally different person. There are many examples of this all throughout the entertainment/media industry (Steven Colbert, Taylor Swift, The Jonas Brothers), and it's neither good nor bad, but it is regular and often makes it hard to know who these celebrities truly are. The only real way to know them is in person, if that's ever a possibility.
I think the story of Nigel in Dr. Fletcher's blog is sad. Period, full stop. (Read Blog HERE). It is not a beautiful story of love, but rather a story of desperation without reward of failure or success. Knowing you have failed, though disappointing, is at least some sort of result that can be observed and improved upon. The fact that Nigel gets no response from a statue, yet continues to attempt to love the object is depressing.
Looking back at Anne Bogart's chapter "Making Art in an Unpredictable World" from And Then, You Act, she reflects on how directors use attention:
"Listening is a basic ingredient of attention, and it can be learned and practiced. Listening is fueled by interest and curiosity. It is a discipline and an action in the world, and the results are nearly magical. Hearing can restore. To be heard, really heard by another person, is to be healed. (pp. 59)
In regard to Nigel, he doesn't implement any sense of listening or "gauging the room" as I many would say. The non-responsive statue bird should indicate that Nigel is not being successful in their attempts to woo, disinterest, or simply failure. But the fact that he dies having given all his love and devotion to a creature that will not respond to him shows a lack of listening by Nigel. His audience never shows interest. This is a social cue to back off and stop, but the bird never relents and that is sad to me.
A situation I see all the time, is the dance between when actors live truthfully in the imaginary circumstances of a play and the audience responds generously to the exchange of truthful storytelling. On the other hand, I have also seen many performances where some of the actors push, trying hard to cause a reaction from the audience (laugh, gasp, cry, scream, etc.), and it fails. A funny example of this is in the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Marshal is trying to help Barney write his vows for his wedding and repeatedly makes puns with the word "vow" that he doesn't get reactions from, so he repeats it with no response still. Eventually, his wife Lily has to tell him that they are just not enjoying them and he stops, unsuccessful and unhappy with the response.
I think it matters in regard to being an artist. A skilled actor is not purposefully a manipulator. Making an audience laugh, cry, or react in any specific manner is and should be seen as a by-product of living truthfully under imaginary circumstances, not the goal. The actors should learn to trust the text, use the text, and allow the text to drive the action of the story rather than trying to "put their own spin on the story" or attempting to "invent something new and exciting." Performers can do this without pushing or trying to aim for these goals by their pursuit of objectives and use of actions to tell the story and live int he world of the play. The reactions will come as a by-product of this kind of truthful storytelling. Regardless, we as actors must commit to the story and not give any attention to the audience reaction aside from being able to pause if there is a laugh or scream. The art of finding a balance of expecting and not expecting is one of the challenging parts of being a skilled performer.
A current popular application for phones is called "Tik Tok." This app (first called "Musical.ly") is a master of short-attention-span-satisfaction, giving those who watch a virtual "snack" with every new video. Videos are most often somewhere between 15 and 30 seconds long, feature a song or sound in the background of a video that is coordinated with the rhythm of the audio. It started out with songs that lasted around 15 seconds with young people dressed in cosplay costumes or really specific, well-done makeup, lip-syncing the words to the song. The videos are often sped up or slowed down to create interesting rhythmic effects.
It stemmed from the famous "Vine" app that only allowed six-second looping long video clips that entertained spoke to some sort of true experience of everyday people, often humorously.
These apps are a perfect example of this idea of the Attention Economy being polished and used superbly to keep people's attention for long stretches of time. Videos on Tik Tok often ask for the like (or a "heart") and follow afterwards in order to increase the creator's influence and appearance on the app and other social media sites.
A creative response to this Attention Economy Consuming app comes from within the app itself. Contributors/creators on the app (everyday people, usually teenagers to college students) have posted Tik Tok videos telling people who are watching to stop and go to sleep.
What many users know is that it's easy to get caught up in watching video after video after video on the app before bed, and stay up for far more time than intended just watching more and more short videos. The content of Tik Tok and other similar apps creates a cycle of dissatisfaction. The more you consume, the more you want to consume and the never-ending cyclical watching and scrolling through entertaining bits and trends continues on.
When users post a video that encourages the viewers to go to bed, this acts as a trigger to release them from the control of their attention that the app has. It's counter to the application's culture. It jars the viewer and creates an opportunity for release. It's like a protest that doesn't resist the app all-together, but seeks a balance in consumption and stepping away. It's a harmonious approach to working with the Attention Economy, spending attention intentionally, like with money, and being purposeful with it or training it.
Ultimately, it creates a good feeling for the viewer, that they were able to consume and "stop when they wanted to" like with an addiction, which is similar to what happens to people who enjoy Tik Tok and Vine and other apps like them. This resistance to staying up all night by helping others watching get to bed is effective at least in that it helps them stop using the app and actually get rest. It's a nice placeholder for the viewer until they're able to stop themselves when they know it's good for them to move on, go to bed, or put their phone down.
It isn't perfect, as it doesn't stop future long-term scrolling sessions, but it's not a solution for that purpose. It's merely a step in the direction of disconnecting more often from being consumed by our phones, but it does work and helps many Tik Tok users put their phone down and get some sleep.