The Chatroom Stage, shot by Deshan. More here.
Colombo theatre is as much in the seats as onstage. Everyone dresses up, and it’s seen and be seen from ex-girlfriends to impossibilities. In fact, you can have totally void productions and, so long as the marketing and production is right, people will still turn up. Mind Adventures, however, is a bit different. Similar crowd I suppose, but the theatre comes first. Some (re: all) of the productions totally throw me in some way. Fefu with its baffling plot, Through My Earphones with its poetic riffs, and Chatroom with its total lack of movement. All, however, once I found a hook proved deeply rewarding or, at least, challenging. I have questioned the value of theatre in the age of Satellite TV and YouTube but if it can stretch the mind a little I think it is worthwhile.Firstly, Tracy is a friend and her son carries weapons so it’s not possible to write an entirely critical review. Arun (the asshole character) and Subha (the bird) are good friends as well, as are the boy-toy ushers (jokes, all). On the whole I’d say I liked the play, but liking, to me isn’t what Mind Adventures is about. They’re all well done and entertaining, but Fefu, for example, was totally confusing, almost incoherent in parts. However, there was one solo scene in the 4-part stage which was an actor having a very personal (and very alone) breakdown in front of an audience. That scene was chilling and affective and I’m sure there were many other threads within the play that I simply missed.
Chatroom is also an innovative manipulation of form in that the actors are seated in a row for almost the entire play. At most they turn around, or stand and fidget to change clothes. There is no eye-contact between the characters though they are ‘speaking’ to each other. It is a play stripped entirely of the settings and physical interactions of normal theatre, and I imagine that it’s very difficult to perform. More to the point, it focuses the play on words, tone and facial expression which – while minimal – are the most information rich communications we have.
That stripped canvas is also carried through into the plot, which covers the deindividuation of the Internet, and youth in general. And that’s where it gets interesting. The character behave as if they are in a chatroom, complete with endless ranting, rudeness and personal attacks but the audience sees them quite clearly as people. We have the vital input of facial expression and vocal tone, while their characters never look at each other. Admittedly, the actors hear, but the most offensive attacks are greeted with the muted (or disproportionate) response that the Net engenders.
As mentioned in the Psychology Of Flaming, the Net creates different behavior patterns, not only because it is anonymous, but because the normal feedback (face, voice) mechanisms aren’t there. As the New York Times article says,
In a 2004 article in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior, John Suler, a psychologist at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., suggested that several psychological factors lead to online disinhibition: the anonymity of a Web pseudonym; invisibility to others; the time lag between sending an e-mail message and getting feedback; the exaggerated sense of self from being alone; and the lack of any online authority figure. Dr. Suler notes that disinhibition can be either benign â€” when a shy person feels free to open up online â€” or toxic, as in flaming.
In Chatroom a kid was literally being goaded to kill himself, but anonymous people. As a plot it is, perhaps, unrealistic (though I find life even stranger as I get older). As a theatrical device, however, it is mara in that it teases out the crux of the whole Psychology of Flaming thing and makes it observable. The audience is able to have normal human reactions (through the normal mechanisms) while the actors are denied it. It’s like a case study to accompany the now popular Times article, and staged at the right time. Anyways, was cool. Mind Adventures is literally that, a trip for the mind. Not necessarily escape or pure entertainment, but certainly a trip.