Discovering the Relevance of Words
A year ago I visited Paris on a free work trip, learning how to chaperone student travel, and was given three hours to explore the Louvre. Yes, three hours. Yes, the Louvre.
(pause for scoffs and three hours?? you could spend three days and not see everything…)
Yes, that is an impossibly short time to spend inside one of the largest museums in the world.
I spent the first hour plus in the Medieval and Renaissance painting wings taking picture of amazing works of art. I have a picture of
The Madonna on the Rocks with several people’s heads in the way, I have a picture of a painting I can neither remember the name nor find on the internet that shows a large montage containing the entire life of Jesus including the ascension –though I originally took the picture because the ascension portion reminded me of the spaceship in the crapfest that was the 4th Indiana Jones film–, and I have a series of pictures of myself standing in line for the Mona Lisa then a picture of me as close as you are allowed to get to this amazing work of art. Yes, a picture of a picture. A picture of a picture I’ve seen pictures of hundreds or more times
What’s the point?.
Do you go to the Louvre to see what the Mona Lisa looks like? Honestly, your view there is worse than if you were to Google Image search Mona Lisa right now.
Anyone who has been to a major collegiate or professional sporting event can tell you that not only is your view often worse inside the stadium or arena, it is often confusing what is going on during TV timeouts and Instant Replay breaks. Yet we go. Why?
We should go for the experience. To walk in the footsteps of history –whether ancient history of history in the making. I have very few pictures inside the castle of Versailles because the stories of the history around me were so engrossing. The painting of Marie Antoinette, Louis, and their children encompassed a beautiful story of the human beings, not the image. The Coronation of Napoleon (French: Le Sacre de Napoléon) is such an amazing piece of history because it is NOT a picture of the event it depicts. It is not a photograph taken during this historical ceremony. It is a reconstruction of the moment that capture truth much more truthfully than a photo could, especially by including portrayals of people who were not actually in attendance (I strongly recommend typing the title into the google machine and reading up on it – Wikipedia has a nice succinct run down of the characters).
We should go places to experience them, to live in the moment. Not to capture it.
I used to say people went places and did things so they could tell people they did. While I still feel that is true, I find that with the advent of a pocket-sized 20 megapixel camera in everyone’s pocket, we go places to take pictures of us being places. A story is no longer good enough. Instead we forget the story and keep only the evidence. Proof of attendance? Proof of life?
How was your trip? It was awesome- look at all these pictures. This is this, this is this, this is this, this is this, look how neat that looks. Look that’s me there and me there and me there. Look at me look at me look at me look at me…
This phenomenon was painfully prevalent on this year’s trip to London. I took 6 students from my high school and we were grouped with students from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. Forty total students, none of whom had travelled outside the United States, taking picture of London and the English countryside. Standing at Picadilly Circus at night, surrounded by lights, sounds, and street performers, I saw students taking picture of students taking pictures of the real life that was happening around them. That’s not meta. That’s not art. That is a missed opportunity.
The girl with the click-click-click five pics per second Nikkon said she was looking for the perfect picture to capture the moment. The moment was fleeting. Fleeing. Gone. Free and uncpatured.
As we took our charter bus from London to Stratford-Upon-Avon several students slept, but even more were too excited by seeing what they had never seen before. Great, right? Almost. Once we were outside the city the conversation shifted to things like, look at those sheep, what a cute little cottage, oh my gosh, look it’s just like Doctor Who (even though it REALLY didn’t) and faces were glued to the glass. But it wasn’t the glass of the window pane, it was the screen of their phones—taking pictures, taking videos. Watching the reality around them through the virtual device stitched to their hands. Capturing the moment.
I almost punched a lady.
Not a student. Not on the bus. Not even in Stratford.
I am also using the term “almost” very generously. I did, however, give a horribly dirty look in her direction.
This was at Shakespeare Globe, the proper name of the current Globe Theatre in London. I had planned ahead to purchase tickets to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream for myself and my students in the yard for an afternoon performance. (If you are unfamiliar, the yard = standing. We were the groundlings)
Here’s a little architectural hint, your best view is from the ground. No tricky angles. No poles in your way. We were (even the most anemic) stone’s throw away from the stage and only semi-crowded. There were plenty of people packed into the yard, but it was certainly not the proverbial arses-to-elbows. It was comfortable. It was amazing.
Fifteen(ish) minutes into the show I found myself moved to tears. I was introduced to acting at a young age, but Theatre became a part of my life when I needed it most. It allowed escape; it allowed life. Theatre allowed me to be someone else when I least wanted to be myself. I enjoy acting in all forms, I enjoy many forms of art, I love live theatre. I live for theatre. Not only is theatre life, life is theatre.
Unfortunately, this scene was interrupted by a woman about seven feet diagonally from me taking pictures on her cell phone. Other than common sense and basic theatre etiquette telling us photography of a live performance is not permitted, we had all been explicitly told before the performance that once performers were on stage all photography was prohibited—yet it still took an usher walking directly to the lady and whispering in a harsh tone that she needed to put her camera away for her to stop snapping photos (including leaving the shutter sound on, AYFKM?). Missing the moment, spoiling the moment.*
It could not have been more than twenty minutes later that this woman’s phone rang. While she did not answer the phone, she did respond via text. Multiple times. Wasting the moment.
We need to stop trying to capture the moment and exist in the moment. Appreciate the moment. Enjoy the moment. Own the moment.
Moments are temporary, life is fleeting, every second that passes will never exist again, and that is beautiful.
* If you need an explanation of why it is rude to use your phone during a live performance or to take photos of, or record, a live performance here is the super short version: Theatre is a live experience that not only exists in the moment, but requires a covenant between the audience and the performers that the action taking place on stage is REALITY and is happening in a place separate from the audience, separated by the invisible, intangible fourth wall**. As an audience member you do not and should not exist other than to laugh, clap, or cry. When audience members breaks this covenant they have ceased to be an audience and instead become a distraction turning the play’s reality into an illusion.
**In plays that break the fourth wall (actors interact directly with the audience, often times pulling them into the performance), the audience is now part of the performance and is bound by the same covenant of reality as the performers. It is truly a shared show and a shared experience that will cannot be replicated or duplicated. An attempt to capture that moment is to disrespect that moment.