I have been turning over some notes, wonderful notes, on a play I have written. One of them gave me a problem in the best possible way.
The note was asking me to commit to the reality of a situation – essentially to not be ashamed of story. Because story is what makes us human.
This got me thinking, as you can imagine, about reality.
Let’s go to the theatre together – we sit down – the play begins. To what are we committing? And what are our expectations, and what are the conventions? What essentially is the contract?
Is it right to go to the theatre and assume these conventions must be delivered? How far are we giving ourselves permission to digress from these expectations? Why do we get upset or feel dissatisfied if they are not met? Why do we feel, on occasion, a sense of nausea if we do not have an anchor in the world of the play? Why sometimes are we bewildered, and confused, and importantly why do we not accept this as part of the experience of a play?
If we have been led to believe we are going to watch a square, and are presented with a circle – perhaps we might have a claim to being duped.
But if the creative team have made a circle, and we want a square, might we perhaps be doing ourselves a favour by contemplating the aspects of the show that are good and round, and getting over its lack of corners?
More importantly, might we not be doing ourselves a favour by allowing ourselves to be presented with a circle if we haven’t seen one before, or have only glimpsed it fleetingly from time to time?
My idea of reality may be rather different to yours, it may be more or less fixed than yours, it may be more or less fluid, I might have a different idea about what constitutes an identity, or a relationship – or perhaps my reality might be closely aligned to yours – or it may be looking into areas that are located in some hinterland or other (which you don’t want to visit, or hopefully might not mind having a look at). The models I am using to constitute dramatic action may not have their place in your constellation of ‘the real’.
It’s perfectly possible, and shrewd, to arrange a play in a code – a code that can be shared by an audience. However that code needs to be cracked, cracked wide open, and when an audience meets a play that is what is going on. A code is not real, it is a system designed to give meaning, and it has points of reference arranged and aligned to allow this to happen – once you can decipher it. I never go to the theatre to commit to reality, because I do not believe there is such a thing as reality – in the sense of something fixed and eternal and absolute. I am committed to the idea that there are codes, tropes, references, and signs and signifiers – and that all of these give an illusion of meaning, which allows us to function up to a certain point. What is beneath these things, the underlying organisational structure, is also – in my opinion not a ‘real’ but it allows us to exchange ideas – ideas have currency because they influence behaviour. I’m not a relativist, I am too pragmatic for that, but I have not yet met anybody who thinks the way I do, and I am grateful you can understand this blog and disagree. I cherish communication, and I hate not being able to share ideas – however they are arranged.
And amidst all of this is a very human desire for meaning – and in a world where everything has been cut away from anything we might have been hopeful would anchor it, and give it a reassuringly ‘real’ currency, we want to believe that some things are the way they are – fundamentally true and perhaps even universal. It’s important that we can exchange ideas, and share experiences, and look I believe Adorno is correct ‘the value of a thought is measured by its distance from the continuity of the familiar’ and we shouldn’t be afraid to put our space suits on, and drift around in a godless universe for a while. Whatever it means.