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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, August 01, 2008

Bluebeard, Privacy and Politics

I've been working, for a year or so now, on a play adaptation of Bluebeard. It works in fits and starts, and I'm buckling down lately to try to complete a second draft. The first was, shall we say, unsuccessful.

For those unfamiliar with the basics of the story:

A young woman is married to Bluebeard. He is mysterious, ugly, wealthy. Upon her arrival, she is told that he will be going away on business. He gives her the run of the house, and tells her that she may go anywhere except beyond a single room in his house. This room is locked behind a red door. Then, he gives her the key to the room, and leaves. Her curiosity gets the better of her, and she opens it, to find the murdered bodies of his seven previous wives.

There are varied versions of how she escapes.

The images in the story are dreamlike and potent. It's cautionary. Or a story to scare children. Or a lesson about marriage. Or a way to discuss sexuality and violence. Or all of the above.

Privacy is clearly an important question here. Certainly, she discovers that he is a monster. As, its implied, they all did. But what was the transgression of the first wife? Should we think of curiosity as a transgression? Is he testing? Or simply psychopathic? But, if you step back from the literal translation of the events, you find simply that he asked her not to look in one place, and it is there that she discovers the very worst of him. Isn't that her right? Or is it a way to say: "Leave certain things alone?"

Privacy, in the age of social networking, blogging, and search engines that maintain profiles of your e-mail content and search habits, has come under serious attack. Even using blogspot (a Google product) as I am now, I also use gmail. Which means that, essentially, Google has easy access to all sort of information about me. That which I share publicly, and that which I don't. Then there's myspace, Facebook. We increasingly surrender our privacy, and live in a world where we expect to be monitored. And we are. And we monitor each other.

It bleeds into our own behavior, and into the behavior of our public servants. Think about Barack Obama and John McCain. As they are increasingly in the public eye, they are doing so in an era where public access to them is unprecedented. The result is they become less and less human, more stage managed. Where is the place for a politician to publicly muse? To ask a rhetorical question? To speak extemporaneously? It would be foolhardy for them to do so, of course. They would be crucified by our increasing propensity for and acceptance of 24 hour a day coverage.

It seems worthy to ask: how precious is your privacy? Are we too quick to surrender it? And if we cannot remove the technology that permits the 24 hour a day monitoring of citizens of all types...do we not have an obligation to act with our own privacy in mind? And with a careful eye on the privacy of others? Just because an employer can find out all about you with a single keystroke, does not make it ethical behavior. Do we need new laws to control this type of thing? Or is it, simply, too late in the game?

So...how is your relationship with privacy these days? I'd love to hear some thoughts on that issue, as its become a bit of a theme in the new play.


Joshua James said...

In poker there's a wonderful term called PERCEPTION MANAGEMENT.

It's the highest level one can attain. It's not lying or bluffing, per se, but controlling the stream of information available to your opponents. Not shutting OFF info, but controlling it. Meaning sometimes it is a bluff, sometimes it is not . . . you make them see and believe want you want them to believe, to the point where YOU actually believe it yourself.

Of course, the endgame of poker is to take money away from your oppenent. Life has different endgames.

But in terms of blogs and facebooks and whatnot, what I think about a lot these days is perception management.

David D. said...

My perception is now that I should not play poker against Joshua James.

So... I suppose it's working, eh?

Anonymous said...

Teaching yourself Perception Management, as in knowingly telling a lie that you convince yourself to believe is also the method most commonly taught to beat a lie detector test. "The Art of War" refers to this as practicing disinformation.

Privacy is how we protect those freedoms we all enjoy.

In my state you never need to allow police into you’re unless they have a warrant, regardless of the complaint. So many people protest this right and so many wave it.

Freedom should include the ability to do things that others disagree with. I do plenty of things every day that millions of people disagree with, including my state legislators, who've upheld the sodomy laws.

This means the privacy laws protect me and my partner from being imprisoned for our sex life.

Having to regulate what we say and how we come off should remain the province of political science and not an everyday answer to how we live our lives. Ask any gay man how fun it is to live in the closet.

I feel this privacy infringement threatens the core ideology of our country and our ability to operate as free American citizens.

What can we do? Support friendly lobbyists, make friends with lawyers, and speak up. Don't just go along with the convenience and its everyday erosion of freedom. Write your local politicians. Contact the companies who ignore our right to privacy, let them know that it is not okay to share your information with anyone, for any purpose, including the government.

Dan F

RLewis said...

"Remember Jerry, it's not a lie... if you believe it." -George Costanza

Sounds like you've got a terrific idea for a play or 3, but... and you may disagree, but... i don't think it can be a great play if it's... "Or all of the above." Grab one specific "it's about..." and run with it. Other concepts may feed into that, but make sure every single line supports that one core thing.

Freeman said...

Not sure what makes anything a "great play" but I do agree that muddiness isn't it. Then again, I'm personally not a writer that enjoys "illuminating" a specific topic. What draws me to Bluebeard is the number of interpretations that it easily lends itself to. It's an odd high-wire act to try to make something grounded and specific, without making too many of the audiences decisions for them.

Joshua James said...

I do think there's a difference between Perception Management and disinformation . . . sure, they are linked, but we practice Perception Management on a certain level every day.

When you go on a job interview, you wear a suit and tie. Why? Why not wear the dirty t-shirt and gym shorts you wear at home every day, the ones that haven't been washed since 2002?

Because you don't want to be perceived that way.

You go on a date, same thing. You put forward only certain clues, things you know she won't like, you save for later (don't tell her about that felony arrest until the third or fourth day, etc,) . . .

So it's different from disinformation, which is a campaign to deliberately misinform (and often a tool of PM, at least in cards) . . . in poker, sure you sometimes deliberately misinform . . . but sometimes you don't, sometimes you want them to know you're holding an Ace.

Just like when you show up for a job interview, you want them to know you can shave and speak clearly, even though most days you don't.

The thing is, with poker, you can't bluff most of the time because you will get called. Sooner or later. So you have to be holding the goods or folks will know, sooner or later, you don't know what you're doing.

And it'll cost you.

Online, I'm more aware than ever of the job I have managing exactly how my public written words are perceived, and in a way it's more important than ever not to be caught in a bluff or lie or whatnot, because sooner or later I'll get called on it.

There's more than one blogger with a huge cache of fraudulent claims that he / she now claims they never said, or was misinterpreted, etc. I have at least one person in mind, maybe two.

But that shit never goes away.

So that's my take on the different between PM and Disinformation.

But poker is fun.

RLewis said...

Matt, I try not to do a lot of back and forth commenting - just speak my peace and move on, but I like this post cuz it's actually about something, so I'll chip in once more...

"Not sure what makes anything a "great play" but I do agree that muddiness isn't it. Then again, I'm personally not a writer that enjoys "illuminating" a specific topic."

...if I were directing your Bluebeard, this would worry me. First, you have to know what makes a great play. 2) I know everyone has their own playwriting way, and that's a good thing, but I do think there are some "known knowns". As in, I think an audience is coming to the theater to hear the playwright's Voice, and that means having something specific to say. We sit in the dark praying that something incredible about life is about to be revealed. I worry that if the playwright doesn't at least pick a target to start, well then, the development journey may not lead to sweeter fruits. It can change, but I believe that some thesis belief must be at the core of a play's exploration.

Take Doubt - a great play (and about to be a herkin', moneymakin' movie for the playwright). It doesn't tell you, the audience, what to think, but it is crystal clear on what it sets out to explore. It doesn't even tell you who did what, but it does illuminate a very specific topic.

I'm just saying that I think that you can make the play about something - telling the audience how to think - without telling them what to think. good luck with it.

Freeman said...

Thanks for your thoughts.

I'd say that I rarely publicly talk about my process precisely because of the speed at which others criticism and advice will descend upon a playwright, sight unseen.

But, as I put it out there and essentially opened the door, I'll say this...

I avoid the Known Knowns and the Definitions of What Makes a Great Play. Those sound pretty crippling. I am very wary of having success defined for me externally, even with very "well established" parameters.

If there's one thing I truly believe about the creative process, it's that failure IS an option.

I certainly think Doubt is a wonderful play, but it's not a play I'd ever write. Luckily, I don't have to. John Patrick Shanley already writes like himself. In fact, the more playwrights wrote like themselves, and the less they write in order to satisfy the "known knowns" the more vibrant and diverse our theater scene would be.

Joshua James said...

Agree very much with your last comment, Matt. Very much

As per Malcolm Gladwell on TED TALKS, there is no "one best" spagetti sauce. There are different kinds that different people like best, but there is no one best for everyone.

RLewis said...

Matt, my apologies. Didn't mean to pry. I just took it from the way you opened this post, speaking of this play as "unsuccessful", that you were looking for a different result on the next draft.

I have no problem with failure. I've been party to it on occasion myself. Who hasn't? Go for it.

I like a lot of minimalist art and do not believe that the artists have to be able to acturately draw a landscape or nude to paint a white square artfully, but I do believe they have to know how those are done (known knowns) to achieve their own different goals - their sauce. (outsider art notwithstanding) I hope that knowing the parameters of a form doesn't make any artist a slave to them. It should be freeing, not crippling.

My next project is a performed installation in 8 different bedrooms, so I'm no Shanley myself and wouldn't suggest anyone should be (or should be anything but his own writer). Shanley's writing was just one of a thousand possible examples on which to 'discuss'. It could just as easily been Foreman or Welman - same thing applies. I just didn't get that you might be leaning more performance art than theater/play.

I doubt anyone would say that current indie theater isn't "vibrant and diverse", but I bet that they would say most of it sucks. It's true, we all know this, and that's ok. And we can all enjoy different sauces, but if your sauce is a gas or solid and not a liquid, I'm not sure who's gonna buy it, so some basic things are just not up to taste.

So again, my apologies. The last thing I would have ever guessed by your posting this is that you didn't want to discuss it. Moving on.

Freeman said...

Well I was a bit more interested in discussing privacy than how to go about building the play. But, as I said, I opened it to discussion so you were absolutely within your rights to say whatever you chose.

I will say that I agree that one should understand, even intuitively, the way plays work, and what their moving parts are, if only to know where the deviations are.

I think what makes a lot of theater "suck" is a topic of its own. There are some incredibly proficient writers who have written plays I think aren't very good, and some entirely messy writers that hit great heights on occasion. The wonderful thing about it is how unquantifiable it is. That's really my point.

There are things you can learn, and things you just can't. At least I think so.

Maybe that's a worthwhile question all by itself...how much of what fails in theater can be solved by better education, and what is an intangible?