It’s funny how cyclical life can be. On Tuesday, I (a 21-year-old who clearly has all of the answers about everything) used my Daily Fuel blog to lament the stupidity I see permeating our culture. The insistence on using everything to make a statement, and our collective ability to be angered by anything, have ruined once-fun events. Then in class yesterday, I was given a demonstration of said stupidity, so perfectly, only life could write it.
In my Immersive and Interactive Theatre class, we were discussing the most famous piece of interactive theatre currently playing in America, Sleep No More. The New York production, conceived by Maxine Doyle and Felix Barrett, is a mind-bendingly exciting show. It takes place on five floors of a renovated hotel, and audience members wander freely as they watch a cast of over fifty actors perform a wordless play that is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth and several Alfred Hitchcock films. By choosing which actors to follow and which rooms to visit, the audience is able to create their own story, watching only the plot lines that they find interesting. It is a critically acclaimed and highly profitable show, praised for its creativity and attention to detail. By all accounts, it should excite anyone who studies interactive theatre, as it has added scale to a normally niche art form.
But nothing is ever that easy. After my professor finished explaining the play, half of the class became completely irate. They began listing all the reasons why the show was terrible, why it was an attack on the idea of theatre, and why nobody should even study it, let alone attend it. A few other students started talking about what a fantastic experience it was, and how much they enjoyed seeing it. Then I began to see a pattern. Everyone who hated the show had not seen it, while everyone who supported it, had.
For someone interested in our ridiculous outrage culture, this was like candy for me. You have an incredibly successful piece of art that has been highly praised by everyone who has experienced it (both critics and people in the class). But then you have ten uninformed kids who haven’t seen more than a 5-minute trailer, who are absolutely certain the play is garbage, and who wouldn’t stop trying to convince everyone they were right. And the reasons they offered were delightful. Someone said the fact that audience members aren’t allowed to touch the actors was a form of oppressing the audience (no need to worry about the actors’ safety, I guess). Someone else said it’s a bad play because someone who is blind and deaf wouldn’t be able to enjoy it (unlike most Broadway musicals, which apparently require neither sight nor hearing).
I laughed at this for a few hours after class, but then realized the ludicrous discussion might be a sign of a bigger problem. People were attacking something because it was a hit. The team behind Sleep No More took a massive risk by conceiving such an innovative, capital-intensive play, and now they’re enjoying enormous success. And some of these jealous theatre students were determined to tear them down by nitpicking every possible flaw in their groundbreaking work.
I’ve been writing a lot about stupidity lately, but this tendency to vilify people who take risks and are rewarded, might be the stupidest thing I’ve seen. Without innovators, without people who think different, we’d be living in a very dull world. I know this sounds radical, but maybe, just maybe, we should appreciate them.
Or at the very least, we should watch their freaking show before we criticize it.