Thursday, March 8, 2018

On Technology

“A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.”

- Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism (1711)
The X-Files revolutionized the procedural drama by introducing the use of cellphones, utilizing them as a necessary tool of communication. That two detectives could be in two different places but still be in touch, it changed the game.

“Mulder, it’s me,” was catchphrase, a device for pushing the boundaries of storytelling, and an touching suggestion of intimacy.

The existence of technology has always had an effect on the way we tell stories. Baz Luhrman’s film Romeo + Juliet (1996) with its contemporary Miami Beach as a stand-in for Verona is dated in a manner in which Franco Zeffirelli’s Renaissance-era Romeo and Juliet (1968) is not. A 15th century R&J just makes sense, presented as it was more or less intended. But watching a “modern” version is no longer modern without cellphones, the internet and all the rest.

I didn’t even have a smartphone yet when I directed Henry VIII six years ago, but I understood their ubiquity, and creating a contemporary governmental regime, I thought they should be present. So every character had a phone and we played with them throughout rehearsal to figure out how they could be incorporated. They were used for music, to take and share photos, and in one amazing circumstance dictated by Shakespeare's actual plot, to send the wrong email to the right guy.

Today, it is far too easy to look up someone you knew so long ago, perhaps briefly, get their contact info and, you know, contact them. Of course, just because you can do this doesn’t mean you should, Depending how you knew them, and how briefly, perhaps you shouldn’t.

I actually wrote a play about doing just that. And, as you might expect, it's short. Screen Play is a ten-minute play, available for reading at New Play Exchange, and it will make you uncomfortable. A little learning is, indeed, a dangerous thing.

In the past, we just lost people. They went away, they were gone. And we didn’t think there was anything strange about it, because that’s the way things were. It might hurt, might make you wistful, might even make you sad, but that was life. That’s one reason people actually showed up to high school reunions, to see, meet, and speak with those with whom you’d shared so much when you were a younger person.

With the advent of social media, it hardly seems necessary. You don’t need to bring pictures of the kids, they’ve already watched your kids grow up on Facebook from their homes in Texas, Nepal, or Bay Village.

Yes, I know one person from my graduating class who lives in Texas, one in Nepal, and the rest still live in Bay Village.

Back in the day, in order to find someone you needed to do some actual detective work. I recently read Celeste Ng’s novel Little Fires Everywhere, which takes place in the mid-late-90s. Old-fashioned legwork is a major element of the story; a character must make phone calls and travel real physical distances to find the information she seeks.

This is also the case in my new play The Way I Danced With You, which will be performed one weekend as part of the Blank Canvas Factory Series. It is a strange thing for a young man going through an emotional low-point to drive past an exit on the highway day after day and think, “All of my answers lie right over there.”

But that’s the thing, right? You have to take that exit.

Blank Canvas Theatre presents “The Way I Danced With You” at 78th Street Studios, March 22 - 24, 2018.

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