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#3 Reflection

A blog about writing and its problems. 

The way the characters speak to each other in this play is imbued with the memetic structure of online communication. They each repeat what the others say very quickly, adding to the phrases that have been introduced. Sometimes this repetitive chain gets away from them and they must be reminded to not let it get to them. “It” might be conceived of as “online”, that online logic is infiltrating them and they must resist before becoming “extremely online” like Jan. But the characters do not name what “it” is and they never say Jan is “extremely online” –  to them this is just the form of life they suffer.


The way the characters speak to each other, and the plans they make through these repetitive and patterned forms of speech, imply that there will be forward motion, but the progressive motion does not occur as imagined. Kit cannot bear to leave clay stuck in the shag carpet. They are out of paper from the paper store of Jan’s youth, and must go on a physical supply run. These problems induce an anxiety because they disrupt the seamless “online” logic of the way the characters move through the world. Because ultimately, though they are not extremely online like Jan, the online comes at them in a trillion untraceable ways.


Once something has been introduced in conversation, it is immediately absorbed as knowable, identifiable data – for example, when Kit says, “Why did Jan have a phone sitting in her pocket?” And Chris immediately proclaims “a pocket sitting phone is a risk” – because now that Kit has introduced a phone sitting in a pocket, a pocket sitting phone has become a nameable category of phone. There is one point where Joan has to describe the person in Jan’s life who is dying. She says some facts about him that one might find in a social media profile – he’s good at math, he has a twelve-string guitar collection, a cow tattoo. Immediately after the introduction of these words and images, they become a part of the language of both the characters and the Voice who lords over them.


The Voice, which I mentioned in the first reflection, was really inspired by Beckett’s use of external forces and probes that have some form of control over his characters, such as the light in Play or the Opener in Cascando. The Voice attempts to replicate the structure of online control. Online, the illusion of control is often offered by giving the “user” options – a pop-up that asks if you want your data tracked or not, if you want to sign up for their newsletter if you’d like to look at this list of shoe stores based on your last google search. It’s absolutely up to you if you want to remove this extremely misogynistic tweet that you’ve already read from your “timeline”! The characters only have control over the Voice in so far as they can say “stop”, but they cannot stop the Voice from ever speaking again and they cannot stop the Voice from absorbing information. With the title of the play, I hoped to invoke this confusion of power – who is letting what happen?


Bertha, who is older than the others, described as “leaky”, has a particular way of speaking. I imagine her phrases, often cliches, are empty statements that still bring comfort through their recognizability rather than the meaning or truth they assert. She is like a mom sharing encouraging memes on Facebook, poor-image-quality beacons of comfort from a bygone world that isn’t aware of “girl dinner” or “bean dad”. Her endless nicknames make her an automated machine of implied familiarity. But she is also the subject of occasional outright scorn, particularly from Kit, who is uniquely unable to bear Bertha’s lack of understanding of the systems of communication that Kit, Chris, and Joan have internalized to varying degrees. To mention the writing of the two pairs (Joan and Jan, Chris and Kit) this was born both from Mixie and Munchie, as well as Beckett’s pairs.


Julia Jarcho writes that “In Beckett…the space and time of theater have coalesced into the unrelenting identity of a single place, a single moment. Deeply entrenched within this field, writing nevertheless becomes the custodian of negativity; theater we might say, comes to operate as a utopia of writing”.[1]  Theatre can open up a dynamic between the script and the stage that fosters negativity and I tried to make use of the tools of repetition, patterning, and control described above, in a specifically “online” form, that played with this negativity.


I encountered many roadblocks in the writing process. One major example was the physicality of the characters, how it related to online forms and how to translate this. Right at the beginning I included the “choose-your-own character” movement which, for those not on TikTok, is a pretty common online trend to move like you are a video game character that is waiting to be selected by a player. I am hoping that by recontextualizing it I have removed enough of it’s cultural specificity that it is allowed to be of the world and system of the play. I also chose to leave in the description for “influencer hand”, which there are many examples of on my profile, particularly from Mixie and Munchie who are often parodying it. Again, I hope it’s recontextualization onstage will remove enough of the cultural specificity of the inspiration. The reason I struggled with this is because I wanted the script to make it clear enough that these were learned motions from online, and if I named what had conjured them, I could make sure of this. But I also did not want to exactly recreate imagery and language from online, but rather create a system that functioned in the same way, to disrupt the processes of signification and avoid “representation”, in Beckettian form.

In general, I struggled with making sure I was using the mechanics of Beckettian dramaturgical practice applied in this context rather than just imitating what I know it looks like. I hope I accomplished this overall, but I know there are moments of “copy and pasted” Beckett. 


The last major hurdle I’d like to reflect on is the difficulty I found in translating online automated animacy onto the stage. Much of the performance of the internet is a smooth, effortless simulation of actual interaction – to bring it back to the actual is to remove one of the forms major defining qualities. For example, there is a scene in the play where Joan and Chris are working on the book. They silently execute their tasks, like Mixie and Munchie. Their faces appear bored, in opposition to what is around them, like Mixie and Munchie. But their bodies on stage exude a muscular, live effort that is washed away online in the small, scrolling frame. I came to the conclusion that the discrepancy in effort is probably a key element of this intermedial interaction.


In the last scene of the play, Jan asks – “Do you know something, Joan?”, to which Joan replies, “I don’t think so, no”. I have offered a lot of explanations and thoughts on what I have done here, but like that description in Sebald’s Rings of Saturn, often I was pursued into my dreams by the sense that I had a hold of the wrong thread – or perhaps more aptly, “and finished it…and not the right one”.[2] Ultimately, I am drawn to Beckett’s work because knowing something is not the point. He offers ways not to make statements about what something is, but create conditions to observe how it works, how it pushes against nothing and nowhere, how we want and don’t want to be a part of this nothing and nowhere. Even if none of these questions can ever be answered, in conducting this research, I’m trying to ask.


[1] Julia Jarcho, “‘Gesture towards the Universe’: Theater as Utopia in Waiting for Godot,” essay, in Writing and the Modern Stage: Theater Beyond Drama (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 70.

[2]  Samuel Beckett, “Cascando,” Radio Play, in The Complete Dramatic Works (London: Faber and Faber, 1990), 297.

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