In the Eschaton, Everything is An "Aside"
As I write, I’m preparing for the first meeting of an experimental theatre writers’ group I co-founded called Cut Edge Collective. This group was meant to meet locally in Manhattan and indeed first began in that configuration, in 2019 (the before times, as it’s been stupidly called). I no longer live in Manhattan (Minnesota being home) but am able to remain engaged with the group “by Zoom” because of course this bizarre pandemic giveth and taketh away both. I remain more connected to this group thanks to this mysterious and efficient virus.
So this post will be artificially brief, as I prepare to hear writing intended for live theatre be shared digitally through screens. There’s a slightly pathetic quality to this, or at least tragicomic. Beckettian, with high speed Internet. The practice of writing for live theatre as an American is already patently ridiculous in the face of the Utilitarian nightmare dystopia we inhabit. Theatre burns too many calories for too little ROI. When you tell someone in London, “I’m a playwright,” it sparks a conversation. Say the same in America, and people want to know what you “really” do, with perhaps an exception in New York City if people like the cut of your jib.
Screens, screens, screens, our life is mediated through screens. Genet wrote a famous play using screens as a device. We are all now trapped in such a perverse, inhuman, post-modern and dramatically ironic dramaturgy. Dramatic irony defines our lives. In theatre, an “aside” is a useful dramatic trick. Someone speaks to the audience, to themselves, or to another character and a third party isn’t privy to that information. Screens aid in this and are a helpful little device. And that’s our world now. Almost everything has become an “aside” now, or a side quest. Yes, even your Twitter account. Yes, even this substack. There are no main plotlines to follow anymore, in our contemporary eschaton. It’s all choose your own adventure now. RIP consensus reality, down to the individual account (oops, person) now.
Of course that doesn’t mean you aren’t sometimes the “main character.” For example when the HR officer decides you’re no longer necessary and need to be shitcanned to make way for a restructuring. Anything you say can and will be used against you in an HR tribunal. "Hamlet, we’d like a word with you.”
There is no princely immunity now. We have a saying in theatre: there are no small parts, only small actors. And we’re all small actors now.
Our living room here in St. Paul, Minnesota has no fewer than four “screens” and yet another set if you could the long row of windows looking out upon the Mississippi river and sometimes sleepy, sometimes psychotic downtown St. Paul, which is at least nominally “on high alert” because the malfunctioning capitol building essentially sits perched on the north end of downtown like a bulbous, alien vulture. St. Paul is a strange city, especially now and especially in winter when people abandon the streets and take to the skyways and tunnels. These are all empty now. It feels like a side quest in a Fallout Game. “Fallout: Oh Yeah, You Bet’cha.”
This is an idle thought, but I would like this year to take perhaps three days, perhaps seven or ten, away from “screens” and see what happens. For now, I’m trapped here, monologging into an electric window that doesn’t look back and wouldn’t notice if I was gone. Or rather it would notice, but is indifferent.
“Good night, sweet prince. And may flights of anons sing thee to thy rest.”
The Mississippi River, or “the spine of America” as a friend calls it, seen from downtown St. Paul.