Charlie Steele

Actress and wrestler (of words). This is where I sate my desire for the first person. Rambling on about acting, theatre and politics.

On Digital Embarrassment

I was born in 1992, and for some of you, here is a bucket for you to retch into because of that statement. I am a part of what they call the Internet Generation, or Generation Y, Z… something… Can’t actually remember. I’ll google it later. Anyway, it means that I don’t really remember a time when I couldn’t immediately google anything. I do, however, for those of you walking around born in 2000 (I know) remember dial-up. I imagine when I’m old and my health is failing, in a home full of other Generation Y’ers, they’ll play the dial-up tune to get us to fall asleep and stop screaming.

I am also quite an anxious person. The internet is simultaneously the best and the worst thing for an anxious, bit-weird-but-not-that-weird teenager. On the one hand, the worst of my youthful mistakes are probably documented in a folder in the furthest reaches of the internet (come on, we all wanted to be MySpace famous). On the other hand, when once someone like me would have felt progressively alienated by my peer group, having most of my sensitivity and spark stamped out of me, the Internet kept it alive. On the Internet, I was the person I wanted to be. This was helpful, as the likelihood of me making it as a rock star in rural Cumbria was unlikely. It was a form of expression that didn’t need the same level of devotion that a sub-culture did. I dabbled with being a goth a bit, but I lacked conviction (this is a problem which still plagues me. It is why I like brackets so much.)

The digital and the corporeal worlds are still separate. That causes some issues. For example, it’s quite astonishing the things people think it is okay to put on the Internet. ‘Cause, you know, it’s not real? We are either people who grew up with the Internet, or people who grew up without, and regardless, we don’t know what the fuck we’re doing with it. We’re like Harry Potter if he’d been given the wand without Hogwarts and had to doss around central London fending for himself for 7 years (a book we would all read and a fanfiction I am now googling). We laugh that our parents don’t know how to use Facebook (and no, they don’t). However, the sad truth is that those of my generation have all done the following on the Internet:

a) drunkenly confessed our love for someone
b) confessed our love for someone then pretended we were hacked when said hottie did not return our feelings
c) “LOLLL SOOOOO DRUNNNKKK!!11 look aT all the fun im havni!!!”
d) measured our worth by the number of followers/friends/likes/ we have
e) spent a whole day staring at a screen
f) cried because someone was rude to us on the Internet
g) accidentally sent a bitchy message about someone to that person
h) that other thing I am well aware that you did

Not that our parents didn’t make mistakes. They did. But they understood the gravity of them. They happened to them, physically, not through a faceless omnipresent middleman. From libel to adultery to hate speech, there are lots of things one can commit with the least amount of significance and ceremony possible. This lack of ceremony is what worries me. We need to elevate the Internet to reality status as soon as possible. That is, we need to realise what we do on the Internet, has ramifications in the real world. Sounds simple enough, but it’s an understanding our society still lacks. It’s not ‘the cool, wacky future, yeah, where’s my hoverboard lol’, it is a terrifying wasteland where the worst and best pockets of humanity flourish alongside each other. I don’t want to have to be embarrassed when I explain that I met my best friend through Twitter (hi rey_z luv u babe) anymore. There are people printing bullets off of this thing; compared to that me and my Twitter pals are very sane. A lot less embarrassing than the fact that we are using this thing that we have no idea how to order or control.

Not that I’m going to fucking solve it, look at me, I’m about 12.

Creating a Monster

For my first play, I thought it would be super fun and easy to adapt Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.* Interspersing live action with projection, it was supposed to make a really serious comment about society or some shit. Can’t really remember, it was bloody ages ago and directing is so stressful I’ve blocked most of it out. For all its sins and failings, it was something I was very proud of and I was lucky enough to see it longlisted for NSDF this year.

About three months after closing night (student newspapers are wonderful at timekeeping), I read a review of it. My first impulse, after the boiling rage and the desire for vodka, was to vehemently register my belief in the pointlessness of criticism. 6/10? I spent my whole summer writing that thing. I sobbed over my laptop. I didn’t get to watch a single box-set. I’m pretty sure at one point I grew a beard. SIX OUT OF TEN?!

I completely understand that initial reaction. When you create a piece of theatre, you are putting a bit of yourself on a stage for other people to point and laugh at, or loathe, or feel offended by. What I failed to realise was that much like Frankenstein’s creature, once you have created something and let it loose, no tantrum will stop other people judging it. There’s no other experience quite like that, other than the rare times I take to karaoke. You’re leaving yourself completely vulnerable.

The difficulty is in staying vulnerable. I think this is what a lot of creative people struggle with. Especially during this festival. There has been a lot of harsh criticism and harsh responses to that criticism. Well, fair enough, you might think. If you enter into a discussion with a piece of work, the makers of that work should be able to defend their work. But there is a difference between defending and being defensive. When we are subject to the next stage of that, of criticism, of discussion, we don’t engage, we retreat into coolness. We sit in cliques and bitch about that reviewer who just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand this context, they didn’t realise what that thing was supposed to mean. I understand that reaction, because it’s exactly what I did. But there is no shame in something we’ve created being slated; and no shame in doing the slating.

Theatre is such a transient thing. It’s not a film that can be analysed several times throughout someone’s life. It seems ridiculous that we are often so hateful towards those who criticise us, when what we do is of the moment, every night being different. It’s all water under the theatrical bridge. It’s there, then it’s gone. It’s not who we are, it’s just a slight reflection of who we are; a puddle, not a mirror.

So, from now on, I welcome criticism with an open heart and open mind, even when it hurts. But yes, next time I read a review of my own work, I’ll make sure I have that vodka at the ready. I might even buy one for the person who took the time to write the review.

* Please don’t try this at home unless you are Nick Dear.

This piece was originally published at http://noff.nsdf.org.uk as part of the National Student Drama Festival

The Future, Now

I left Mercury Fur feeling I had travelled somewhere beyond my seat. I have rarely experienced a play so far ahead of its time.

This isn’t to say I wasn’t as shaken as everyone else who saw it. I was confronted by several people crying in the toilets, and in the corridor. I don’t want to focus too much on the last ten minutes of the play; suffice to say, they were horrific and have been discussed at length by everyone there. I had to cover my face, which I don’t think I’ve done whilst watching something since I was a child. There definitely needed to be a trigger warning for rape alongside the gunshot warning, and thankfully the Festival team moved swiftly to do so for the second performance.

Nottingham New Theatre do a good job, despite a slow, hiccupy start (there’s a lot of tripping over cans of lager). The set works; and thank God director Nadia Amico doesn’t feel the need to put her actors on stage whilst the audience comes in so we have time to experience it. The rubbish, stained carpets and overturned furniture already set us on the downward spiral. Destination: having your beating heart ripped out of your chest. Stand out performances come from Laura Gallop as Naz, who brings a vulnerable confidence to an incredibly difficult part. She shines, but Andy Routledge as Elliot, Matthew Miller as Darren and Aaron Tej as Lola are also commendable. The relationships between the two brothers, Elliot and Darren, as well as Elliot and Lola’s relationship are the heart of the piece. All the actors are incredibly brave to go to the very dark place they have to go to; but then, so are the audience. I felt like applauding everyone in the auditorium afterwards.

After a bit of reflection, I knew why I was upset. I was not repulsed, I was scared. Very, very scared. We live in a world in which the stakes between what we can win and what we can lose are getting higher every day. The more we are desensitised, the more we desire something to overcome the numbness that modern society has inflicted on us.

“I’m going to hurt you”, says the party guest. Her glee is disgusting, heightened slightly more by the fact she is played in this production by a woman. I understood how the possibility for that desire had come about and how it was being facilitated by characters we sympathised with. I think that’s why the play was so nearly censored. Well, it was to an extent. Faber and Faber refused to publish it. We feel sick, because we recognise what this play is on some level, and we don’t want to admit it.

The word ‘dystopian’ is being thrown about. Look at this scary future, people say, calmly reasserting it won’t happen in their lifetime. I don’t think Mercury Fur is so far away. The world of the Party Guest is coming. We are increasingly disconnected from our natural feelings. An attention span in 140 characters, eroticism dwindled to a number of certain conventions, experiences for the sake of pictorial evidence. Bigger thrills, bigger highs to overcome the desensitisation to everything we can no longer feel entirely; hunger, arousal, hate. I think it’s a lot closer than we’d like to think.

 

This piece was originally published at http://noff.nsdf.org.uk as part of the National Student Drama Festival