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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rage Against the Screen--- How Theatre Fights the Zombie Apocalypse!

Pioneer Drama Service had this image on their Facebook Page the other day--- I love it!
Hello, everyone.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I would like to welcome you to Theater is a Sport.  It is February 24th in the year of our Lord 2013.  Tonight is Oscar night, which makes it a perfect night for this post, I suppose.

Right now, at this very moment, my eyes are affixed to a screen as my fingers fly across the keyboard to type out my thoughts for this blog.  Somewhere, you, dear gentle reader, are looking at a screen at a particular moment in time to read my blog.  Perhaps it's a desktop computer or a laptop computer.  Maybe it's an I-pad.  Perhaps it is your phone.  In any case, yes, I still think it's pretty neat that my thoughts are flying out of my brain, captured onto this blog, and, via the miracle of the internet, reaching your eyes and, hopefully your brain. 

I need to say upfront that I use the internet on a daily basis, not only for this blog, but to check my e-mail, Google some information, keep up with friends on Facebook, perhaps even watch a video on Youtube or stream a movie on Netflix.  It would be hypocritical for me to say I am anti-internet or anti-TV. 

I am neither of those things (though I don't watch nearly as much TV as I used to when I was a youngin'). 

Yet, in all things, there should be a kind of moderation.  What troubles me about the convenience of instant communication devices (such as the aforementioned I-pad, and most phones) is that the notion of moderation is obsolete.  These devices lend themselves to a kind of dependency, and I don't believe this is a slight danger.

People joke about the Zombie Apocalypse--- in fact, there's huge business in that stuff right now.  I must admit, however, that some days I feel this is not a joke.  To be honest, some days, I feel like the Zombie Apocalyse is already here.

I teach at my old alma mater, Foxcroft Academy.  I teach an intro to theatre class and a playwriting class.  Every student at Foxcroft Academy is issued an I-pad for educational purposes.  I will admit that I-pads can be a wonderful educational tool.  Since I am willing to admit this, I wish more people would also just come out and admit that it can also be the most distracting toy in the Universe.  As I teacher, I was issued an I-pad, and I have to force myself not to unlock it during a quiet moment in class.  My first semester intro to theatre class had a real problem, a true, honest-to-goodness addiction to their I-pads.  There were twenty of them, and if my back was one way, half the class was on their I-pads (games, facebook, e-mail, texting), and then, well, guess what would happen when my back was the other way?  I finally had to make a compromise that no one could touch their I-pads at the beginning of class, but, if we got through what we needed for the day, they could have five minutes at the end of class to play on their I-pads.  Great, huh?  I think one of the scariest I-pad stories I could tell, however, is about a teenage girl from that same class, who was in DESPERATE NEED of an I-pad charger, and wanted to be dismissed from class to go borrow one from somebody.  When I said no, she BEGAN TO CRY and called me mean.  This was a student who had never given me a speck of trouble, but, faced with a dead battery of her I-pad, seemed to suffer a genuine bout of temporary insanity and regression into childhood (high school students usually don't call their teachers a meanie).   It was on this very day, when, later on, at the end of the class, I watched my students staring at their screens, blank expressions on their faces, and wondered how long it would be before they were going to try to eat my brains. 

The truth is, technology is a wonderful thing for the progression of theatre, particularly from a technical point of view.  But these kids were supposed to be working on an acting unit.  Yet they did not want to even talk to one another, except through their I-pads.

A play I admire very much is The Zoo Story by master playwright Edward Albee.  At one point in the play, the character Jerry is talking about some pornographic playing cards, and Peter, the man he is talking to, smiles knowingly... he knows all about those kinds of cards.  But it is revealed that there is no need for those types of cards when you "grow up".  Fantasy is replaced by genuine experience.  By reality. 

Now, Albee was not talking about I-pads or technology when writing this portion of the play, but I can't help but think about it when I see all of these teenagers, every day, choosing the screen, choosing the fantasy over any kind of genuine experience.  Who needs to go to a bowling alley when you can "bowl" on the Wii?  Who needs real confidants when you have over 500 friends on Facebook?  Who needs a significant other when you can have the virtual experience just the same.

I understand that what the screen is fighting much of the time is lonliness.  And yet, lonliness is an emotion worth feeling from time to time, because it is an emotion which makes us human.  I understand that the screen is also trying to provide some kind of "experience" for people who may never be able to have the real one:  a virtual tour of Ireland, perhaps for someone who can never travel there--- but, dear Lord, do we honestly have to pretend that this virtual experience is truly superior? 

The flow of information and misinformation, the text-speak that would make Orwell cry, the choice to live with a screen attached, filtering out unpleasant truths so that all of life can be distilled into a funny tweet.... yes, it is scary to me. 

I know it is not everyone.  I know plenty of people who, like myself, use these tools responsibly and try not to abuse them too much.  And the internet has changed they way so many things can be shared, how friends can be in better touch, how information can help people, and so much of this is positive. 

But thank God for theatre.  Real, live theatre.  Thank God for actors on a stage, maintaining eye contact and talking to one another.  Thank God for real-life audiences experiencing a piece of live theatre and contributing to its energy (please don't get me started on the recent fad of "Tweet seating" at some theatres, where it is all right to have your phone out during a show). 

You see, Theatre is all about being a communal experience, without distractions.  It began as a religious festival, and was a place for humans to be humans, to share in the human experience, to connect through the arts.  To purge, to laugh, to cry.  To FEEL.  The picture at the top of this blog says there is no app for theatre, but there is also no app for genuine human emotions--- please, let's not become a civilization where emoticons suffice. 

When I am done writing this blog, I am going to post it, let people know about it through some social networks, then I am going to go work on my play (I write longhand first).  Walk my dog.  Talk to some people. Connect with people.

It is difficult to tell young people that they should actually experience their experiences, even the painful ones.  Theatre allows this.  It is its nature to show us who we are through different means. 

I shall do my best to keep creating theatre that is relatable and will hopefully touch people in some way, whether through laughter or tears. 

This is my small part in keeping the Zombies at bay.

Until tomorrow, I hope you all feel your feelings, and remember:  Theater.  Is.  A. Sport.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you. I gave up my cell phone because I didn't like the interruptions following me around. Telemarketers are bad enough on the home phone. Facebook is great, but sometimes I have other thins to do,like read a real book, or write one.