"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.”
-- William Shakespeare
From As You Like It (II, vii, 139-143)
I’m hardly a fan of Shakespeare. For a writer, or for at least one trying to be, to say as much is quite likely blasphemous, but I do quote him here hoping for some mitigation to my crime.
Being myself a member of a band and having had the chance to perform in gigs, I wish to pen a few of my thoughts on the stage and maybe in the process, share some truths about the world where we are all, according to him, but mere players.
The stage in its most basic form is a platform. Stark and imposing. Uncomplicated yet compelling. Essentially, all it is is a raised plain yet with a power undeniable. A flat, grounded structure strangely affecting those on it as much as those around it, it might as well be a floating monolith like in Arthur Clark’s novels. Drawing and mysterious.
The stage exaggerates. Performances on stage are magnified, and in direct proportion to the number of eyes watching. Captivating performances become utterly entrancing while ugly performances become painfully revolting. Something most obvious more so with TV, an evolution and electromagnetic extension of the stage. Consider the recent auditions for the hit television show “American Idol”. I don’t watch it regularly and only chance on short snippets as I do my channel surfing on occasion. Having seen my share of repulsive numbers on the show I wish to mention it as a point of reference. The stage’s amplifying properties I hold self-evident.
The stage elevates. It raises the performers and the performance in more ways than literal, its most obvious function. To knowingly perform before a watching multitude galvanizes an ethereal web of connections between the performer and each viewer. A network that works much like a funnel drawing energy as much as attention towards the front and center. All become linked and electrified, and all feed on each other. Much has been said about performers feeding on this energy and so much is so true. While at the floor, the audience erupts. A single scream in the crowd can become a howling expanse and a single clapping can become a roaring sea. Anybody who’s been to huge rock concerts knows exactly what I mean. Anybody who’s actually performed in huge rock concerts understands exactly what I mean.
The stage empowers. Amplified empowerment. The microphone is one’s mace and the spotlight, one’s crown. Dazzling to the crowd and blinding to the performer. So much so that many forget who they are and why they are up there. Delirium is common. Yet one plays to the crowd as much as one plays for the crowd. Because as much as power is granted as one climbs the stage, one must wield it well or be forced off it. It is a power that, with it, comes responsibility. A responsibility to please the crowd. To serve. Spiderman knew a thing or two about this duality but let’s not talk of superheroes for now. So while many may bathe in adulation, the undeserving ultimately suffer the rain of rotten tomatoes, or these days, empty plastic bottles, and be ousted from up high. Ultimately, all the power one can wield up there is but borrowed from the masses. Power doth come from the people. In many ways then, the stage is a perverted democracy. Vibrant and liberating yet fickle and fragile.
There is a psychology of the stage that needs defining exhaustively. People change from being on it too often. Constant exposure to adulation lends to surrendered anonymity. Fame, even modest, changes the person. Some bloom. Some rot. Everyone seems to want it even then. But more than the corrupting effects of fame on the star, and much has been said about such, more pathetic is what it does to the fan.
Crazed fans do the darndest things. Moshing, stage-diving, even flashing. All to demonstrate adoration to a loud performance, which I feel is – stupid. Buying the band’s CD’s, chasing after autographs, chanting lyrics, rocking with the beat, all that’s all cool, but to act like monkeys high on cheap drugs is totally moronic. I surmise the actions of such poseurs are driven more by the mystique of anonymity in a tidal crowd massed before the imposing presence of pseudo-divinity, all enhanced - by the stage.
What goes on around a stage are but rituals to celebrate surrender and devotion – total however temporal. An act of worship – loud and live. An exaggerated mass with the stage as altar. Rather than saying then that all the world’s a stage, the stage could be a reflection of the world. A souped-up parody of a global party of a blinded mob. Free yet frenetic. All a riot.
This probably explains why I feel at home up onstage. Up there, there is an eerily comforting amount of detachment from the flurry, something I’m sure Shakespeare himself would have appreciated. In conclusion then, if Shakespeare were alive today, he’d probably be in a band writing songs rather than sonnets. Probably, he’d call himself Bill, William being a poor choice for a stage name.