Interactivity is a tough nut for a critic to crack. Generally, within the limits of our subjectivity, we strive to be neutral observers. When we check something out, we can’t help but to see it through our own eyes. Sit ten critics of diverse backgrounds (age, gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, etc) down in front of an art work, and guaranteed the analysis and interpretation that they offer will have unique aspects to it. Occasionally, you might even wonder if they’d seen the same painting, play, movie, or whatever.
Sometimes, the insight the critic provides is valuable. Other times, they totally miss the boat. Regardless, it’s a cardinal rule of criticism that while everyone is entitled to their opinion, a critic never interferes with the art. I could go all quatum physics here and talk about Schrodinger’s famous thought-experiment of putting a cat in a sealed box with a flask of poison. If an atom decays, the cat dies, if one doesn’t, the cat remains alive.
Under quatum mechanics, the statistical probability of both outcomes is the same. Therefore, the cat is regarded as being both dead and alive. The only way that the paradox can be solved is through direct observation. Copenhagen model, many-worlds interpretation, yada-yada. Bottom line is that by acting to look in the box the observer becomes “entangled” with the cat.
Say I’m a theatre critic. I go to a play, and half-way through I start chucking golf balls at the actors. That would kind of taint the review I subsequently wrote, wouldn’t it?
That’s an extreme example. But with a performance that’s designed to be interactive a critic — normally a neutral observer — is afforded an opportunity to impact on what happens. Impact too much, and at what point does a critic cross the line and become a co-creator? And if there’s a second cardinal rule of criticism, it’s that it’s impossible for a critic to critically engage with their own work.
I entered the space tonight the same as everyone else. Standing in line in the hallway outside the Globe’s main stage where Tuesdays With Morrie was playing. We were let in in small groups, where we got a brief welcome to acquaint us with the ground rules … dark a lot of the time, if one of the performers directs you a bit do as they say, and don’t fall off the riser in the corner. Otherwise, feel free to do what you want.
I immediately separated myself from everyone else and sought throughout to be as detached as possible. In the program, the performers Johanna Bundon, Lee Henderson and Barbara Pallomina speak collectively of a childhood memory, pre-PowerPoint, of being enlisted by the teacher in class to run the film-strip projector.
Operating the projector, they observed, the student became “a functionary of the machine. To advance the story for the rest of us. To respond when the machine requested advancement.”
Not exactly a positive take on technology. Yet without technology, what would WhyRobotsMakeBetterLovers have been like? It didn’t start until 8 p.m. At this time of the year, as we are painfully aware, the Sun has set by then. Without electric light, the darkness would have been unrelenting.
Some of the lights used in the space, along with most of the furniture, was vintage technology. There was even an old record player spinning an LP. Yet the sound board that was as futuristic as they come. So overall, there did seem to be a bit of a love-hate relationship with technology.
Most of us can probably relate. And the pace of change is only going to accelerate. That’s a concern because, biologically, there’s no way that we can evolve fast enough to cope. We live in a nuclear age. But we have Stone Age brains. Not a good combination. Are we masters of technology. Or is technology our master? We hope the former, but fear the latter.
That’s kind of the vibe I got watching the performance, anyway. And while the performers did do a reasonable job of utilizing the space, and of shepherding the audience around, the 25 or so people who were there were still very much that — an audience.
At one point, an old fashioned dial phone began ringing in the corner. After a few rings, it might have been nice if someone had shown the initiative to walk over and answer it. As it was, Pallamino finally directed a woman to do so.
So many rules in our society. So many taboos.