Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Cyber Room Table

By Chas LiBretto

It’s surreal to be organizing a play in Hollywood from a small beach house on Nantucket. For one, the weather here is really not at all like what one finds in Los Angeles in May (or nearly all the time). Here it isn’t yet the on-season, and there’s always a chill in the air, and at night the tree branches scratch the window panes through all the hours. The ocean here is rough and cold and surrounds us on all sides; even in this highly connected age, the isolation on an island is palpable, and it’s easy to see why people run here to escape the world. The palm trees that rocket from the sidewalks on Sunset Boulevard dwarf any of the salt-water choked scrub that inhabits the island, or the gnarled and ancient Elms that seem to burst from the cobblestones. And the dry, warm desert air of Los Angeles has nothing on the corrosive, moist, ocean breeze that rots and rusts everything it touches here.

But these are all surface-level observations that don’t much resemble what we’re after. Yes, one is isolated on Nantucket, and spends near-$200 and many hours to get across the Sound to Hyannis and to rent a car to Manhattan, but for a theater company that has-not-yet-staged-a-single-bit-of-action, obsessed by the internet as we are, the act of organizing a company, or producing a show from a dining room in a house off the 110 is not terribly different from doing so on Washaman Avenue.

When we’re not typing, bleary-eyed into our laptops, desperately booking theater space, or attempting to coordinate with actors and musicians, we’re off to work, performing in a production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town in the basement of an elderly Methodist Church, at the top of Nantucket’s main street. It’s a show that seems to mean a lot to everyone who sees it here, and to the actors as well. Many reflect how life 110 years ago in fictional Grover’s Corners still resembles, at least at a cursory glance, what life in the off-season of Nantucket is like: a small, isolated (actually even more isolated, as its not just removed by dirt roads, but by an ocean divide created during the last ice age) New England town where everyone knows everyone else’s business and where most secrets aren’t kept for very long.

But at Psittacus, we’re interested in what being alive in the 21st century really means, and though in many ways, life in a small town pretty much looks the same in 1901 as it does in 2010, the interconnectivity of the internet-age makes us into a kind of global Grover’s Corners, with status updates and tweets keeping us all abreast on the mundane, the strange, and the spectacular goings-on of everyday life, much as gossip after choir practice would have done the same for a hundred years ago.

I didn’t expect to come back to Nantucket and yet, it feels appropriate to be doing new work here. I met my business partner while doing Shakespeare here a number of summers ago, and we spent the following years dancing around collaborations of a kind, until we stumbled upon the Psittacus idea in Los Angeles. And yet, here we are, back with old and new friends and realizing that 3,000 miles and an ocean isn’t very far when your friends and collaborators, on Nantucket and in LA, can communicate in an instant. So many artists spend their time analyzing the effect technology is having on society, but we’re interested in embracing it in practice, and finding out first hand what it says about who we were then, and who we are now. So when “A Tale Told By An Idiot” premiers at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, we’ll be streaming it live to the internet, so that our friends and family around the global village can see it in the comfort of their homes, and respond to it via chat or text, be there a palm tree outside the window, or the branch of an old elm.

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