Against my will, I took Theatre Studies A Level. There was a group of us who’d sat GCSE Drama and were keen to continue with the subject. Our sixth form hummed and harred and finally partially conceded. Drama A Level wasn’t considered academic enough, but Theatre Studies was, so our teacher took a crash course in it and we were plunged into it.
Frankly, it was a waste of time. None of us had any pretensions towards directing, lighting, analysing playwrights or types of theatre. All of us, without exception, just wanted to act. But that only counted towards 20% of our marks. So, unwillingly and truculently, we had to study all sorts of stuff that none of us cared a fig for. And most hated of all was the year we spent studying two key theatrical practitioners – Stanislavski and Brecht.
I’m assuming you’ve been spared the joys of becoming as intimately acquainted with these two as I was. Stanislavski was a Russian actor who became best known for his collaborations with Chekhov and ‘The System’ – a series of techniques to be employed by actors in order to uncover the psychological truths of the characters they were playing, via mental and physical exercises. This was later adapted into ‘Method’ acting in America by people like Marlon Brando, Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffman, whereby actors ‘become’ the characters they portray. Brecht was a German playwright whose best known works are The Caucasian Chalk Circle and The Threepenny Opera, and also known for his confrontational style of presenting plays – sparse, unemotional, and didactic.
I promise I am going somewhere with this. It makes sense in my head, even if I am going to labour this analogy until it squeaks.
I was having an Actual Real Life Interaction with someone I met on facebook, and she mentioned something about work. I didn’t know anything about what she was talking about, and asked her to explain. Slightly affronted, she said ‘Oh. I’d thought you would have read about it on my website.’ I’d never bothered visiting her website and said so. Clearly this annoyed her. And then, a few days later, something made me think of Stanislavski and Brecht (I think it was on my birthday, when I was, bluntly, shitfaced for a good ten hours) and I developed a theory…
Stanislavski represents real life. Brecht represents social media and the internet.
No, wait! Come back!
With Stanislavski, it’s a gradual building up of layers, blending together motivations, wishes, thoughts and movements, just like a real person. When we meet someone for the first time, we see only the external view. It’s only as we get to know them that deeper layers are revealed, nuances and shadows become visible, known and understood. So, just as the actor imbues the printed words on the page with meaning to create a fully fleshed out character, so too are we more than simply one dimensional facades that we present to the world. When we first meet, we know nothing about one another. It’s only as we become more familiar that little quirks and peculiarities reveal themselves. Obviously, this is both good and bad – you might quite like someone, only to discover they are a swivel-eyed UKIP supporter. Or you might meet someone and think they’re a twat, until they tell you that they love John Fuller’s Valentine poem.
With Brecht, the reverse is true. Everything is laid out, bare and unvarnished. There’s no discovery, no gradual revelation of the psyche, just as it is on facebook and twitter. 'I like this'. 'I disagree with that'. 'I shared this'. You might think you ‘know’ people on these sites, but really, all you’re gaining insight into is the little piece of their soul that can be crammed into 140 characters. I’d like to think I am more complex and rounded than that. I certainly hope that you are. Yes, you might see things I tap out and come to a quick and simple decision about whether you like/dislike or agree/disagree, but you don’t know anything of the subtleties behind what I post. It’s effective, but it’s very black and white, and doesn’t reflect any of the complexities of the people you interact with. Even if you progress to DMs on twitter, it’s still a confined space in which to work.
The problem nowadays is that it’s all out there. It would be very easy for me to pick someone I follow at random, find out their real name, look them up on facebook, Linked In, google etc., and find out all about their life to date. Where they went to school, who they’re married to, where they used to work, what they do now, do they have children. All the facts are out there (which is part of the reason I write this under a different name – I don’t want any random person to be able to google my real name and stumble across this, my private ramblings. I know you’re probably a complete stranger to me, but that’s fine. You don’t know who I am). But does that really tell me anything about the person they are? What they really feel about things? How they react to certain situations? Would they and I get on in real life? The only way to find out is to meet outside of the ether.
And, on balance, I have to say that I prefer Stanislavski’s approach. I might follow you on twitter and we might have a giggle or share mutual outrage about something. But until I get to know you, the real you, the offline version, then I don’t know who you are, however assiduously I read your tweets. And I prefer to keep things that way. Larkin wrote that the sexiest word in the language is ‘unbuttoning’. I agree. I would rather unbutton your personality than strip it bare.