I've recently got a relatively up-to-date smart phone and I do use it a lot, largely as an extension of my work. I can post tweets and stuff to my followers, on the go - patchy Suffolk signal allowing. Whilst I can attest that I do look down more often, I don't know that this necessarily affects the way I see the world.
For starters, I'm often reading an article about something whilst online. An article about not looking at things because I'm looking at my phone, for example. This is an activity I do anyway, though usually in analogue form - when I have a paper or a book on me - but then I'm probably too old to be using my phone for the activities this article probably decried anyway - selfies or sexting on the go whilst watching (rather than listening) to music on YouTube.
If the phone is doing anything that makes me less of a human being, it is probably connected to stress - as my work is already my life, it now follows me further and further into my day. I check emails and social media far too often and, as I'm in the tail end of a tour, worry if I don't get x number of bookings by mid afternoon of a show day. When the tour is over the off button will be an option again.
But all of the above is a preamble to an actual point, the point of this post.
People are funny about eye contact. And I suspect they always were.
Let me explain. As a storyteller I trade in eye contact. It's how I tell my stories. If I can't look at the audience it doesn't work. Playing vaguely over the heads of the audience is really weird. It's... well, it's just rude. You can't pretend they're not there. Actors, those who trade in talking to onstage people or cameras, do not always get this - they are often terrified of looking at the audience.
Everyman is not quite your standing actingy show - it's somewhere between acting in a play and storytelling. The show functions because when I'm playing a character, I'm looking at the audience as if they were Everyman, as one end of a conversation. When I talk to a volunteer who's with me on stage, I talk to them as though I were Everyman, and again, it's a conversation. If you don't look at me, then it's weird.
And some people just won't. They look down. And it breaks my heart a bit.
I first noticed it as a problem when I started doing one-to-one storytelling, when I realised how many people HATED the idea of someone telling them a story direct. I assumed that it would be a nice novelty, that people would jump at the chance to be told a story, like a child at bedtime, perhaps. I was being interviewed on the radio about a show called Problem Tree and the presenter (live on air, to my immense anger) said how horrible to must be for the audient and that she'd hate to go to the show.
And so the reaction remained - whenever I spoke about the show, everyone said it sounded really uncomfortable and somehow indecent. And even when I had dozens of people coming out afterwards, raving about the piece - it remains one of my favourites - no amount of ecstatic reporting could get people to come who hadn't already dismissed the show. Because I looked at them.
With the Everyman show, the people who don't look are those sitting as audience members - when people want to be distant and presented with a spectacle. They look at the floor or close their eyes and listen. When storytelling you learn quickly that some people like to close their eyes and listen - and for a biggish audience, that's mostly fine. (You learn the difference between those who are listening and those who are asleep.) Again, it's a bit sad, but it's not the end of the world.
But with Everyman it's different. The play as I perform it is closer to ritual. It's about connection and it's about looking and sharing, and when people don't play - then I have no where to go. It is easy in a play where you are play a part and reacting to others on stage to find the emotion and the story and to feel and emote appropriately. When you're jumping from one person to another in seconds, as I am in Everyman, it's far harder to keep that going. It becomes harder to react genuinely and not over or under act, to force something for effect.
The eyes have it, the eyes make the show.
So, what has this to do with phones and selfies and the lack of communication between human and human? Bugger all, so far as I can tell. It's almost always the older audience members who won't look, not the teenager locked to their phones. Perhaps, because they spend so much time looking down into blank screens, when they're offered eye contact they gorge on it like a gatecrasher at a wake.
I'm about to set off for Assington for tonight's show. Proper updates about the last couple of shows will follow this weekend...
The Summoning of Everyman: Touring April 2015
All shows will be Pay-What-You-Want and tickets can be reserved by phone or online.
Assington Village Hall - Thursday 9th April at 7.30pm
Brettenham Village Hall - Tuesday 14th April at 7.30pm
Steeple Bumpstead Village Hall - Wednesday 15th April at 7.30pm
St Mary’s Church, Chilton - Sunday 19th April at 3pm
Boxted & Hartest Institute - Monday 20th April at 7.30pm
Stisted Village Hall - Wednesday 22nd April at 7.30pm
All details correct at time of press – updates, corrections and directions to shows can be found online – or contact us direct.