Wednesday, May 31, 2017

I feel like the internet is not really working.

I left a Facebook group today UK Playwrights Forum. I left with a flourish of grey that usually I condemn as flouncing.

I think on-line communities are immutably tribal or narcissistic and I'm worried about it. This whole internet thing isn't a very good forum for speech. This is what happened:  I write plays and before that I was a lawyer. The process of becoming a lawyer involved large amounts of socializing, time spent learning the profession by observing others in the profession and not only what the others did,  what kind of people they were.

I didn't really do this after my first play Baby Love Time, I wrote plays by myself. I thought until today that I could use more socialization. I used to have a wonderful time in the 00s: there was an active and diligently-managed playwright's forum on stageplays.com. People disagreed and argued, but 90% of the posts and discussions were about helping each other in the immediate and difficult challenge of writing a play.

So I joined UK Playwrights Forum to find that support and that socialization. I made two posts. The first was from a Canadian theatre company giving advice on being your own dramaturg. That was met with a storm of criticism where self-righteous, insecure dramaturgs belittled the uselessness of the exercise of being your own dramaturg. So that was fun. It ended with dueling production credits.

I drew back, noticed that most of the posts were boring self-promotion but then recently got a FB memory of an article begging actors to scour scripts for clues about their characters and to memorize the script on the page. I posted it. Cue outrage from people who say that this is the job of the director.

It was the nasty orthodoxy and the insecurity in the subtext of the comments that annoyed me far more than the actual comments themselves. It really showed people trying to prove their worth as a playwright by denigrating the observations made by others. It was that simple and that sad.  Free speech is really shrinking all over. What is replacing it is this shrill orthodoxy. I see it in politics, I saw it on the FB group I left, I see it horribly taking shape on University campuses. The shrill orthodoxy is grounded in insecurity and fear. Such are our times. The internet does not disperse this insecurity and fear, it fosters it.

Playwrights of all people should know that in the end there is only this moment and a person is speaking to a person, a person with a rich backstory probably beyond your imagination, a person with conflicts and challenges that may well exceed your own. If you are only shouting them down, think how much you miss out on. This is why playwrighting I unfortunately concluded recently does involve being kindhearted as well as honest. To others and to yourself. So off to another place.

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