It’s the Connection

I’m just going to go ahead and claim prescience for writing a play about a guy named Paul who leaves the Internet. (We can also rack up a few serendipity points for the fact that the actor playing Paul this summer is the one who pointed this article out to me.) It’s fascinating to see someone dealing in real life with a lot of the themes that made me tackled this subject in the first place, and real-life Paul crystalizes some of the ideas that character-Paul, and everyone else in Paper City Phoenix, give voice to throughout the play. The whole thing’s worth a read, but this stood out:

I’d read enough blog posts and magazine articles and books about how the internet makes us lonely, or stupid, or lonely and stupid, that I’d begun to believe them. I wanted to figure out what the internet was “doing to me,” so I could fight back. But the internet isn’t an individual pursuit, it’s something we do with each other. The internet is where people are.

Would Miller’s experiment have been different if nobody else had the Internet, either? Probably. But people who talk about its “detrimental” effect on society often miss that one, central fact: it’s not a thing that we all use from time to time. It’s a whole part of us, by now. It is connection. It is an interface. It’s not just something that disseminates or engages with culture: it is the culture. And so to leave it all behind also means, in many ways, leaving society. Is that scary? Maybe. But no more than saying the same thing about, say, public transportation, or phone service. The Internet isn’t making us become anything; it’s allowing us to become who we’re generally predisposed to be, and also helping us share that person with the world. And that seems like a sum positive, to me.

Presentation is Everything

I love writing for theatre because your words aren’t the be-all, end-all of the experience. The chance to collaborate with talented actors, directors and designers means that you’re getting contributions from all sides (in mind-bending 3D!), and they bring a script to life in ways that you could only ever dream of. Get the right actor, and you can even make the 50 worst video-game voice acting examples of all time to be entertaining.

And, coming off a week-long workshop of Paper City Phoenix (with the astoundingly wonderful Orfeo Group), I’m thinking about presentation even more, because this is a play with even more facets to consider than normal. It’s about the Internet (I mean that literally: the Internet is a character), and involves projections, video work, and special effects that probably don’t make it the most producible thing in the world, but hopefully will make it entertaining once it gets on its feet. There’s a lot of info to give to the audience, because the play deals with the nature of information itself, but the possibilities for that information are fun to think about. Lately, I’ve been considering the possibilities of kinetic text, as displayed in this rather relevant video:

And also good old-fashioned flow-charts (involving Dickensian orphans).

Of course, all those bells and whistles come later. The wonderful reminder from the Orfeo workshop was that a play is, at its heart, an interaction: the give-and-take between characters in a moment when they all want something from each other and are doing their best to get it. Putting it up on its feet for three days gave me a chance to process all of those interactions, and take a look at the various character actions from all different angles, as they were happening in front of me. Because if the human element isn’t squared away, and each moment isn’t thoroughly interesting just as an interpersonal event, then no projection design in the world can save you.

Presentation also matters when it comes to criticism: it’s easier to listen to honest, open critiques of characters and situations when they’re being given to you by actors you’ve spent fifteen hours with already, who you have a rapport with and who you know beyond a doubt are invested in making the best play possible. The same note sounds very different coming from someone like that as opposed to, say, your mother, or a random audience member at a reading (not that those inputs aren’t valuable too, Mom).

So much of what we do is subjective, right down to how we think about the pieces we create; a bit of indigestion that occurs during writing time can result in entire scenes being scrapped. The only real way to succeed is to be as cognizant as possible about what you’re trying to say in each moment, and make sure there isn’t a single wasted beat, action or item on-stage. The more cleanly you present your ideas, the more likelihood there is that people will engage with the work on its own terms.

Don’t tell Sal

But the namesake of the Order might not be quite right:

Despite their modern reputation, the original Luddites were neither opposed to technology nor inept at using it. Many were highly skilled machine operators in the textile industry. Nor was the technology they attacked particularly new. Moreover, the idea of smashing machines as a form of industrial protest did not begin or end with them. In truth, the secret of their enduring reputation depends less on what they did than on the name under which they did it. You could say they were good at branding.