Be We Audience, Puppets, or Sages?

Last modified on 2010-02-23 05:04:41 GMT. 0 comments. Top.

Being an actor, singer and songwriter, and a writer of sorts, I thought I would kick off this blog sharing a bit of an excerpt from a report I wrote for a stage directing class. Below is the intro and a little beyond that. If you are interested in the whole thing, email me at Mike@MichaelJPhillips.com and I’ll send it to you. Enjoy.

All the World’s a Stage (Excerpt)

© 2009 Mike Phillips

The Immortality of Story

In the inky black of an ancient summer night, rows of orange-hued faces flicker in and out of view as a bonfire randomly illuminates them, briefly, into existence, only to wink out again at the next gust of wind. All eyes train silently upon a painted warrior sitting proudly at one end of the circle, and as he imparts story after story of fights, arguments, romantic involvements, and other intrigues, the group itself becomes one organism, living, dying, and breathing upon his every word. They are, in a word, entranced in the magic of his story, and this ritual helps forge a core bond of strength and unity amongst the people he proudly leads. Through these stories, the chief imparts strength, wisdom, customs, history, warnings, and above all, a sense of community and purpose which gives the group its solidarity and strength.

Flash-forward a thousand years to the present-day.

In the inky black of a modern theatre, row upon row of blue-hued faces flicker in and out of view as a movie screen randomly illuminates them, briefly, into existence, only to wink out again at the next change of scene. All eyes train silently upon the ephemeral images dancing across the silver screen, and as it imparts story after story of fights, arguments, romantic involvements, and other intrigues, the group itself becomes one organism, living, dying, and breathing upon the movie’s every sentiment. They are, in a word, entranced in the magic of the story, and like audiences of ages past, they are sharing in a form of community, mass-hypnosis that is at once mysterious and alluring, titillating and intoxicating. And so compelling one can say it is the most consistent thing human beings do throughout the ages.

Archaeological evidence, from cave paintings, stone tablets, papyrus manuscripts, crumbling scrolls, coffee-table books, and even computer monitors, proves that while almost every aspect of human civilization changes, one constant remains: story. And even though the stories themselves are different, the only real difference is the medium and technologies through which they are told. Story, it would seem, is immortal.

But why? Why are stories told? Why do they hold such sway over us, and why are they so important? And given that so many stories are clearly fictional in nature, the question becomes, “from whence comes this insatiable desire to make things up?”

The Origin of Story

The answer to why we make up stories goes to the heart of our experience as human beings on this earth. For stories are, simply put, our deepest and most compelling method of making sense of our world on a moment-by-moment basis. From the time we wake up, until we finally drift off into fitful slumber, we are inundated with countless quadrillion bits of information, hitting us from every angle and every sense, known and unknown. All of this vast amount of information is just that: a pile of data that has no meaning until it is organized into a story. We do this with our minds constantly. We interpret all the data coming at us into small, medium, large, and super-stories, which have tremendous power over us. For the stories we have adopted become our beliefs: tiny pieces of operating software in our brains which affect how we perceive, understand, and feel about the world.

The stories happen so innocently, so randomly, so frequently, that we are most often completely unaware that a story is born each moment of our lives. Someone cuts us off while we are driving. This is simply an event. Yet the human mind reaches out to weave this event into the individual’s personal story of the moment, to imbue it with meaning: “That person is a jerk!” Or we may broaden this story and decide, “Men in big black trucks who swerve in and out of lanes are jerks!” Or, we may attach it to completely unrelated stories we have made up in the past, and instead decide “This proves I am a victim,” or “I have bad luck.” In that brief, tiny moment, the internal narrative begins: Now a story is born, and grows of its own accord, having a life and motive force of its own. The driving force of such stories becomes our very own internal thrust, and we borrow their energy to create and perpetuate our own lives. We can wonder if it is we, or our stories, who actually live our lives!


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