Phone Baskets and Sacred Spaces

There is a basket in my front hallway. It is where my phone lives when I am at home. And if I want to use my phone, I consign myself to doing my business in the front hallway.

Since my phone moved to its home in the basket, I find myself interacting with the entranceway as a distinct room in my house. In a sense, the hallway is the internet. Or, at least at a minimum, it represents the distractions and clamour of the internet.

What’s in the rest of the house? Family, books, and little shrines of furniture devoted to dining, chatting, playing, and writing. And all of these activities are more important to me than my inbox. Over time, a spacial differentiation occurs. The hallway becomes a physical boundary marker: it is a buffer between the people and activities I love the most vis-a-vis everything else in the world that wants to interrupt.

When I leave my phone in the basket in the front hallway, the house transforms into a home, instead of a remote office. Not only a home but also a sanctuary: a place to be free from enslavement to correspondence and exchange; a place for talking, eating, reading, doodling, and thinking.

A home is only a ’domain’ if it is distinctive from the rest of the world. And increasingly it seems to me that ’the internet’ and ’the rest of the world’ are synonyms. My front hallway has become the frontlines in keeping the world at bay.

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Writing versus Posting?

Surely writing has been in flux and evolution since our earliest etchings, and the advent of the internet has only ushered in yet another transformative epoch to the practice. So how does the post-to-share structure of social media change the act of stringing words together? I am wondering: is there a difference between ‘posting’ and ‘writing’ online? Obviously posting text involves writing, but how does the broadcast-this-now proposition of the internet shape the act of writing itself?

Here’s a question to frame the proposition: are you writing or posting?

The distinction may not be as subtle as it seems. Or maybe I’m splitting hairs. Either way, since leaving social media I find myself thinking much more about the act of writing as something distinguishable from the act of posting. I am ‘publishing’ here on my blog, yes, but this intuitively feels much different than submitting these words to Facebook or Twitter to distribute on my behalf.

Perhaps the difference between posting and writing is this: when you post something to Facebook, you inherently hope to find an audience; you wish the algorithm and potential recipients to ‘engage’ with the creation. By contrast, when you write a book or a blog, your write for readers — people who have already made some intentional decision to interact with you and your ideas.

Posting words with the intent to find an audience for them versus writing something for an audience are two distinct activities, I hypothesize. Granted, maybe the difference is all in my head. What do you think? Would you describe a difference between posting and writing?

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Live theatre as co-creation: how to produce a 2.9 kiloton explosion on stage

At a panel discussion at The Grand Theatre on Thursday, playwright Trina Davies said that the distinctive difference between theatre and film is that the experience of a live performance is co-created with the audience. At the movies, the actors don’t know you are there. There is no relationship whatsoever. In theatre, the experience is produced together. A production without an audience does not ‘produce’ an analogue experience to what happens in an auditorium full of humans.

Davies described the difficulty of writing Shatter, a play set in the aftermath of the Halifax explosion of 1917 — the largest human-produced explosion before Hiroshima that killed 2,000 people. How can you reproduce the sense of a blast of this magnitude on a stage? You can’t do it physically. It defies even the biggest special effects budget (unless, I suppose, you have an extra half-mile radius of city blocks to incinerate at each show). The ‘experience’ of what the explosion looked, felt, and sounded like could only be recreated through the words and actions of her characters. The audience could only ‘feel’ the size and devastation of the disaster in their minds, not their eyes.

With CGI, of course, you could visualize a 2.9 kiloton explosion convincingly. (But it’s only one vision, and it probably belongs to the executive producer.) The profundity of live theatre lies in this act of joint imaginative production — a kind of collective make-believe. We’re not convinced of the explosion by the clever arrangement of pixels on a screen — or because we somehow forgot about the curtains — but because we empathize with characters in a narrative. This participatory group empathy session yields something that is more ‘real’ than even the most convincing special effects on a one-dimensional screen. This is why live theatre can never be supplanted by Netflix.

Dennis Garnhum — who I recently interviewed about the connection between theatre and civics — was also on the panel. He observed that producer Cameron Mackintosh’s visions for plays like Cats (1981) and Les Misérables (1985) mark the beginning of a trend towards evermore elaborate staging expectations. But with the demand for greater effects comes the demand for bigger budgets, which subsequently drives the cost of experiencing theatre into a distinctive and exclusive socioeconomic class of its own. (One of Garnhum’s initiatives is recalibrating the cost and accessibility of live theatre for high school students.)

Listening to the panel, a few things ‘clicked’ for me. I have always loved the ‘flesh and blood’ dimension of theatre. In an entertainment landscape dominated by prefabricated, play-on-demand experience, a live stage is a place of attention tuning: at this time, in this place, we will ‘story’ with one another. Here the actor is a human, without digital enhancement. What I wasn’t able to articulate before was the co-creative dimension of the experience. In a way, going to the theatre is like reading a book: the explosion is only ‘real’ to the extent it exists in the imagination of the reader. But in the imagination, the explosion goes far beyond the mere words on the page. So too in theatre: the experience of the explosion goes far beyond the raw mechanics of the set design, costumes, and script. I am beginning to think of live theatre as a kind of ‘mass reading’ of a text — it is like having a book read to you along with an auditorium full of people imagining and feeling the scene together.

Eventually, we might get tired of watching pretend explosions on three-story screens. We might discover that being in the same physical room as imperfect, dynamic, adaptive storytellers makes for a richer experience than watching the carbon copy reruns of the ‘perfect takes’ spliced together.

Imagining the explosion is more impactful than seeing it.

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