About Me

My photo
Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Is it just me...

Or have playwrights seemingly no idea how to dramatize the internet? And not just playwrights... movies also fail entirely. The minute something on film or on the stage depends on someone typing or getting something over e-mail, my eyes glaze over.

Something about this mode of communication and thought and information just doesn't seem to like to be observed. And even though technology is an increasingly central part of our lives, cell phones, pagers, beepers, Google, blogging, sending e-mails, web browsing...they seem utterly bloodless on the stage. Worse, they seem false to me. As if they are almost arbitrarily included in some plays in order to nod to the fact that they exist, as if they are this unavoidable thing you MUST acknowledge, even though they seemingly lack any sense of poetry.

Just thought I'd put that out there. Anyone know what I'm talking about?

11 comments:

jones said...

I don't think this is necessarily a new phenomenon. I have NEVER been convinced by scenes on the stage which involve characters talking on the telephone. I'm talking one of those old rotary deals. And letter writing is pretty dull.

Theater works because there is an energy between actual humans, be it humans sharing a stage and exchanging energy, or a human on stage exchanging energy with the audience. Once the direction becomes "character interacts with inanimate object," there is always a danger of cutting the human element out of the picture (and also of using a cheap device to add exposition).

The challenge becomes "how do I, as an actor, give this life?" And it's not something that comes naturally. Because after all, is there anything quite so dull as watching somebody talk on the phone? New technology is largely about communication. And the stage doesn't need communication of information from one character to another hidden in a private activity. The audience needs info, and we need to see how characters react to info. And this has ALWAYS been an issue. Characters receiving letters, reading something in the paper, seeing something offstage. The trick is to remember that playwrights of the past had to invent conventions for previous communication technology.

Mobile phones can actually really release a talented actor, who is free to express character beyond what is laid out in the words simply by doing things people do while talking on the phone. Text messages can replace letters, email received on the phone can replace telegrams. Portable is the key -- you have to be able to bring the words to another character and/or have reason to speak them out loud.

But yes, people are bad at it right now. Growing pains of adopting the new tech. It'll find its ground.

imtboo said...

I completely agree...
Seen the play closer ? or the dying gaul...

ha ha...

shakescene said...

I know exactly what you're talking about. When I'm done with the two things I'm working on now, and if I don't get freaked out by nonlinear narrative and go hide in the British cozy murder mystery I have in my head, I want to write a play that's all about the internet.

I've got an idea for the form. Came out here.

Dan said...

Plays that take place -- or are thematically engaged in -- the world of the internet have always been...let's say a challenge...for me to watch. To me, there's great obstacles in making what happens in cyberspace dramatic and theatrical. Depictions of people at their computers that come within a stone's throw of realism are going to end up with a lot of characters sitting around. Theatrical portrayals of a virtual world are very often interesting, but they don't quite capture the duality of the experience: the user as a Warlock or Superhero and the user at home eating Hostess cupcakes and poking the spacebar.

Lucas Krech said...

Berkeley Rep's staging of 'Closer' about four years ago did a brilliant job of two characters interacting via the internet.

But at a style level, the internet acts as a kind of social dream space. A community hallucination in which the rule and roles of everyday life do not necessarily apply. I think there is great potential in productions that engage technology. The possibilities are almost limitless it seems.

Pulling it off may be a seperate question . . .

kirabug said...

I'm looking at this from a technical angle...

I have the same problem with comics - and I've seen a number of others struggle with it as well. When two people are interacting, you can draw them in profile, seeing how both react at the same time. But how do you draw the focus of the interaction between human and computer? You can't draw the person's face and the computer's screen at the same time (without throwing away all concept of perspective, anyway) -- and in theater it must be that much worse, because there's no way to cheat perspective.

I saw a play years and years ago called "Love Letters", where the actors sit side-by-side or facing each other reading the script as if they were reading each others' letters. At least then it's as if the conversations are almost between the two, instead of separated by weeks of mail. Most comic artists handle the problem similarly. But that only really works for interactive sections of the 'net.

For non-interactive bits, like surfing Google, comic artists almost always just show the back of the computer and the face of the person surfing, reading the screen. And multiplayer role-playing games are usually depicted by the game characters themselves, embracing the idea of a submersive gaming environment.

Dunno, it's a challenge, at any rate.

Devilvet said...

I think it comes down to action.

Internet "action" is an abstraction.

We are typing, and in an abstract sense we are accomplishing something, but it is not inherently "active".

I'm a software trainer and I'm always surprised at how people become "exhausted" when they think they have too many clicks in order to complete a task. "It's too much work"

It's click, come on, it wasn't even an expenditure of 5 calories. But, it is perceived as "action".

Sheila said...

A theatre artist from San Juan named Aravind Enrique Adyanthaya has a really interesting solution to making the act of typing text performative...

He memorizes a block of spoken text so that he can recite it automatically, then he types similar text that is projected simultaneously. However, the text on the screen diverges from the spoken text here and there, sometimes in minor ways and sometimes entirely.

The tension in waiting for the moments of divergence along with the textual/subtextual nature of the divergence itself create an amazing and unique experience, really engaging.

Laura said...

Todd Barry had a great show about his appearance on Conan. After one appearance, the Conan discussion group raked him over the coals. He wrote a one man show about it. Aside from being hysterically funny, he was able to integrate using a computer, overhead slides, and the structure of internet discussions into a highly effective theatrical presentation. It is possible to make it work, but it's very difficult.

jones said...

That's an iteresting point, something I didn't really go into -- a theatrical performance where the performer is ACTUALLY USING the technology, be it talking on the phone, typing, overhead projecting, writing, drawing... is almost always going to be interesting for (x) degree of time as long as the person is still visible. Watching someone interact with something in a focused way is always a little bit interesting. And if the performer is engaging and the tech is producing interesting things, it can actually lead to some really great stuff.

Actors are good at emoting, sharing mimicked experience. Walking around, fighting, laughing, these broad actions they don't have a problem sharing on stage because they share them in public all the time. But few people share their late night email session with anyone else. It's private time. A lot of these new technologies are perhaps therefore hard to perform with because not enough actors examine themselves during private moments to know how they actually behave. With the emergence of mobile phones, telephone calls are no longer made in a quiet moment at home, but rather while walking down the street on the way to the coffee shop; therefore, we've learned how to act better in telephone scenes. Public/private may be the key.

And therefore, getting back to it, it only really bothers me when somebody has to do a bit of business involving tech where they aren't actually physically using it.

Which actually drags me into a whole different arena, where it dawns on me that it's that way with things like, say, someone doing dishes in a fake sink. If the play is going for realism, I want to see some running water or I'll lose all sense of suspension of disbelief no matter how good the performance. Staged in a minimal setting, boxes for furniture, all I'd need is a plate and a washing motion and I'd get that the character was doing dishes.

So maybe the solution is to have better tech props for the more realistic shows. Most of us have access to free nights and weekends on our mobiles. Have actor on stage actually call actor offstage. Have them actually use a real computer that actually has an email on it they have to read. Because either the action is important, in which case it is worth the time and money to be as realistic as possible, or the action is just something to do, in which case there are twenty other choices that are just as valid.

Col said...

I saw this play in -- maybe 1994 or 1995? at HERE where Elyse Singer did this show about Courtney Love and Carolyn Baeumler played her. They did a pretty good job of dramatizing CL's participation in chats about herself...