By Winter James
Image by Jung Lee
What I’m about to say will have been said a thousand times before over the last few years. There have been endless articles, documentaries and TV dramas eluding to the increasingly Orwellian nightmare we live in right now. Today’s society seems almost based on a blueprint from the great science fiction literature of the 80s, and if you want a likely prophecy for the next 20 years? Well, watch anything Charlie Brooker has worked on this decade (I couldn’t stomach Black Mirror after S03 E03). The reason behind echoing the message in my own way is to try and reach out to new audiences through immersive theatre and to remind us all that unless we take action, the death of what makes us human will prove superior. You may be bored of the message, but so long as we continue to spiral into servitude, I’ll keep re-hashing the point.
For the masses of today, technology is becoming increasingly tyrannical. Everything presented to us forces faster consumption and even faster filtering. You can see exactly who was at Jenny’s birthday party last week whilst finding out the best place to holiday in January, alongside learning the 7 life hacks to spirituality and spotting which of your friends is going to vote labour. Being able to digest a myriad of information simultaneously causes our attention spans dwindle, but also forces disinterest in anything that isn’t serving the immediate pleasure nodes in the brain. We want to serve our immediate interests. We want to look at things we find beautiful, we want to read things that inspire us, we want to listen to things that motivate us. We want instant gratification. Take a couple of cleverly placed algorithms which ensure we only ever see things that we want to see, or read opinions that we agree with, and you have the perfect formula to make the most intelligent mind a controlled and closed off lump of uselessness stuck in a bubble of consumerism and confirmation bias. Terrifying.
This, in turn, motivates and inspires us to work on our own content. We all know that the advertisement of one's life is held in higher regard than the reality in the eyes of social media. Envy the person with a life rich in fulfilment, who has endless adventures and reaches personal goals and is surrounded by a life jam-packed with social engagements. We make this hapless attempt to advertise such desirable lives of freedom with the very platform that imprisons us and leaves us disengaged and dissatisfied. Take heed of the advertising industry. Adverts no longer focus on the product, but on the impact it can have on your life. I can go five minutes not knowing what exactly is being advertised, but I know that if I buy it my life will be better, or I’ll appear more attractive. What was the phrase; consume and conquer?
As a teenager, I was fascinated and fear driven by the dystopian science fiction literacy. I was convinced that I was reading prophecy. Bradbury depicted a world whereby books were banned in fear of a future government that would control access to knowledge. Orwell depicted a world in which original thought was banned in fear of a government that would control the very freedom of existence. I believe where we exist today is most akin to Huxley’s depiction: we live in a world with no need to ban knowledge or original thought, for it drowns in an irrelevant sea ruled by Gods of pleasure and entertainment. Convenience is king, disinterest is rife. So here we sit, all neatly tucked up in our beds with all the information in the world at our fingertips, waiting for the next best thing to consume to make our lives easier; and how do we utilise it? I’ll let you have an honest conversation with yourself on that one.
So we’re becoming reliant on the infinite wisdom of the internet ether. Using our brains less, and yet needing more stimulus to keep us ‘entertained’ in the most base of manners. Inspiration can still be found in the art community of creatives that force a different kind of engagement with their work. Engagement that demands critical thinking and presence. There’s no better way than tangible experience with a real human connection to achieve that electrifying state, of which I believe the pioneer of that to be immersive theatre.
Yet the theatre has always been in a battle with the deadlier sins, in turn forcing writers and directors to find more salacious ways to present the narrative. It’s thought that Shakespeare’s script for Titus Andronicus in the late 1500s was written with such intense vulgarity and scandal simply to compete with the populations' obsession with bear pit fighting and brothels, and I see a parallel in the way the West End works today. The last few times I’ve been to the theatre, I couldn’t help but walk away crestfallen at the sensory overload enforced through the highly technological, technicolour production.
Is this what has to be done to captivate an audience and keep their attention? Can we not just feel deep appreciation for the quality of the acting, the beauty of the script, the weight and grit of the story? At 16, I could happily sit through eight hours of stripped back Shakespearean histories on stage and remain stupefied at the relevancy of such amazing writing, but could I do that in today’s world? I talk about this now because my current cause is to protect the endangered species in the entertainment industry. I want to protect an art form which provokes original thought. An ancient practice which is being forced to succumb to the techniques of technological advancements which dumb down and disengage us. I want to force people to be truly present and to walk away with something that provokes thought.