Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Longer Than You Think, Not So Long as You Think

You are sitting in a small theater such as the Old Little Theater, next to your class room at the College of Creative Studies.  Or perhaps it is the Plaza Playhouse Theater in downtown Carpinteria.  Or even the small theater atmosphere evoked by the Java Junction Coffee House.  This much is true"  You are part of a small audience in a small theater.  You are waiting for a performance.

The only difference between this time and the times you were at the theater venues you just mentioned is that you had some specific reason for being at these theaters, some play or performance you knew about in advance.  Tonight, there is a difference.

Although you know you are an audience in a theater where the seating capacity is not grand, you have no idea what the performance or occasion is, only that it is scheduled to begin in fifteen minutes.  You settle into a comfortable posture, double check to make sure your cell phone is muted.  You close your eyes for a moment to experience the inner pleasure of anticipation.

At the precise moment you were told the performance would begin, a man appears, carrying a tall, cylindrical drum.  He moves to a seat center stage, sits, places the drum between his knees, nods in recognition to the audience, appears to make eye contact with each person.  Your appetite is whetted.  Will he provide rhythm for one or more dancers?  Will additional musicians appear?

You still have no idea what to expect.  You focus on the man with the drum, waiting for some clue. He is seated in an ordinary folding chair, appearing comfortable, yet alert.  He is, you decide, waiting for your brother and sister audience members to quiet down, settle into a comfortable sitting audience position.

The theater is quiet.  The creaks and noises are the noises of the theater, not from you or the rest of the audience, paying rapt attention to the man with the drum.  After several long moments--at least, they seem long to you--there is a palpable sense of anticipation emanating from the audience.  You are also a contributor to that sense of anticipation.  

By now, the man has been silent and still for at least two minutes.  A concert pianist, in appearance with a symphony orchestra, might take this long before embarking on a piano concerto, say Mozart's, Number 20, or perhaps the Beethoven so-called Emperor Concerto.

The man with the drum has yet to make a move or offer a sign, much less utter so much as a word.  He sits, attentive, alert.  If ever you saw someone more apt to provide a line of music in the next moment or two, that person would be this individual.  But something is clearly wrong.  He does nothing to tune his drum or strike a note on it.  For all you know, this is an elaborate psychological test, wherein you will learn something about your responses or your specific lack of response.

Four minutes.  You peeked at your cell phone.  You have been sitting in the presence of this individual, this drummer, if that's his game, for four minutes.  Well, okay; you're ready to go for whatever comes.  You're primed.

Still no movement from the drummer.  Some of the audience have laughed with a nervous edge.  You begin thinking it would serve this guy right if you zoned out to the point where you fell asleep.  Surely he'd see you from where he sits, the dim lights not occluding the audience.  Surely.

Okay, five goddamn minutes already.  The nervous snickers are coming with greater regularity, as though, after another minute or so, someone is going to come out and tell you that you've just heard the overture, which is given the name, Overture in Silence.

You're relieved to notice the distinct presence of impatience, bouncing in waves from the audience.  Good thing you know how to zone out, to meditate, to focus on the flickering flame of a candle, in your mind's eye causing the flickering to stop.  

You'll be goddamned if you're going to let any career coaching, focusing on your inner professional kind of stuff get its hooks into you.  In fact, you'll give this asshole another minute and then, no music, no drum beats, no you; you'll stand the fuck up and walk down the aisle to the outer lobby.  You have enough on your plate without playing mind games.

Okay, so now, the drummer hits the drum one resounding whack with the butt of his palm, like to have snapped you out of your reverie, had a definite, attention-grabbing effect on the rest of the audience.  So this was it, now, we'll find out where this is going, what it's all about.

But we do not find out.  We are back to waiting again, as enveloped in suspicion and tension as we would be with sweat if this were a hot, muggy day.  It is anything but a hot, muggy day outside.  But outside is no matter, what matters is right here, a demonstration of some of the potential dynamics for the beginning of a story.

Often, we are drawn into story because of the tug of some situation, but there are times when anticipation becomes exquisite and we are caught up by circumstances, waiting for the situation to begin, not aware that it has, from the moment the man with the drum appeared on the stage, then moved to a seat where we could watch him and he could watch us.

The man with the drum knew what he was doing all along, but we did not.  We could only speculate, imagine, grow uncomfortable with waiting, grow impatient.  There is a potential for the tug of curiosity.  Some in the audience would doubtless wait ten or fifteen minutes, taking their cues from the behavior of the audience because they were getting no cues from the man with the drum--except for that one thwack on the drum head with the butt of his palm.

Story is manipulations of expectation, extended, drawn out, until that moment when curiosity becomes boredom, and the delicate frame of webs is broken with indifference.

How long can a man with a drum keep you interested without playing a note?

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