Thursday, October 16, 2008

All The Worlds A Stage

I was thinking today about the interchange of people in a chat room. As I have mentioned before, I am a "regular" in AOL's Spiritual Insights chat room. I visit others, depending on how the mood strikes me, but inevitably I circle back to my chat "Home" (if you are on AOL, feel free to stop in say hello - we've got the whole spectrum of people there, from the great to the near great to the not so great).

Over they years, I have come to conclusion that the best metaphor for chat in performance art. (I have joked that chat is like performance art, only without the performance, or the art.) There is a huge element of improvisational acting going on in any given chat room. The actors come in - they may have prepared for the performance, they may have not prepared for it - they may be ready to portray a familiar character, they may be ready to portray a new character.

For some people this acting process is overt, campy, and played to the bleachers. For others this acting process is far more subtle, played with depth and meaning. Some seek to play heroes, some seek to play villains. Some have cast themselves as the protagonist, some the antagonist, and many are quite content to play the wide array of supporting roles.

Now it isn't to say that people are not genuine, open and honest in chat - many folks are. But one of the things that has always fascinated me with chat is that all that ever appears on a chat screen is the result of a deliberate choice - the choice to type a line of words and hit the enter key.

(Stream of consciousness is a specific art form and though what streams out may appear spontaneous, with the exception of an excited utterance, it is not - the actor makes the deliberate decision to not filter and to just flow - but the deliberate decision was made at some point).

If you understand chat as performance art it is a lot more enjoyable. If you understand a chat room as a stage onto which anyone can climb, at any time, and launch into whatever role they want to portray - in the course of a single session we can see everything - comedy and tragedy - unfold simultaneously.

Some folks are portraying your basic "slice of life". Some folks are playing at vaudeville. Some folks are portraying Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Some folks are bringing their best Macbeth. Some folks are re-enacting Midsummer Nights Dream. You can see Death of Salesman, Peter Pan, True West and A Long Days Journey Into Night all tangled together, at once.

It is pretty astounding stuff! There are some folks who are reading their lines without understanding what the lines are about. There are some folks who are so deep into method acting they have lost themselves in the characters they are portraying. There are some folks who are typecast and who are essentially playing the same character over and over and over. There are some folks who never break the fourth wall. There are some folks who constantly turn and wink to the audience. There are roles of joy and roles of sorrow and every role in between - and at the core of it, just like at the core of the theatre there are…

The play is about humans connecting with humans through the universal medium art. Ah, the play is the thing! Now, this is all a metaphor of course - so it is important to understand that and keep it in mind.

In closing, I want to say just one more thing about the performance art called chat. Art is at its most powerful when it is honest, whatever it is portraying. The audience (and in performance art, the audience is often part of the art itself) senses inherently what is honest and what it not. To call something an act is not to demean it in any way - but to elevate it to the art that it is.

We all act as we go through life. We all play many roles at many times. A very few people manage to take their life down to the core - but are they revealing their true selves? Or are they just the best and most consistent of actors? Those actors who can own a role to such a degree that all other performances of that role are compared to them? Because in this performance art we have the opportunity to play so many different roles - who we truly are does come through. Tiny bits of us revealed in each performance. Little pieces of the jig saw that make up the puzzle of us.

Now, you may have read through this and rebelled at the thought of you as an actor. You might be thinking "Rod, I am not acting when I in chat! I am genuine!" I agree.

That is the beauty of life as art. We are portraying ourselves. We are not acting in the sense of assuming an artificial personality. We are acting in the truest sense of the word - in that we are undertaking very specific actions to portray, for an audience, the course of things - a story, a tale, a reflection, a memory, a portrayal, an emotional state bound by time and space. That is the stunning beauty of it. That is the endless fascination of it.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

William Shakespeare, "As You Like It", Act. II.

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