What do you mean?

16 April 2019

Emma Rogerson investigates the meaning of meaning in response to ARE YOU STILL WATCHING

The Arden School Of Theatre’s ARE YOU STILL WATCHING presented a fun selection of impersonations, original writing and characters all based off, or revolving around, popular TV. It was a lot of fun and giggles, but I walked out not knowing what the show was actually about, what it meant beyond the fun. And then, while I was writing a review, I didn’t fully know what meaning itself actual meant. After a quick google search and some philosophical debates in the Noffice, words like purpose, intention, expression and significance kept cropping up. Words that I couldn’t seem to match up with ARE YOU STILL WATCHING – I wasn’t sure how to feel in response to it. And then I started thinking about the broader implications of this. Who determines what a piece of theatre means? Who has that responsibility, privilege, power?

From the roles listed:

Dramaturg?

Although the nature of the term dramaturg demands a degree of breadth, usually the jobs of research, context, text analysis and editing are associated with them. In this case, I presume the dramaturg worked with the various sources of different TV shows to incorporate the narrative and connection between the different sources.

Writer?

Normally, I would argue that the writer is the main architect of any intentional or inferred meaning from a piece of theatre but, in this case, the show was devised by BA Theatre and Performance students at The Arden School of Theatre. As such, devising in such a collective environment limits the extent to which meaning can be collaboratively constructed. A room of people can’t spontaneously come up with one singular meaning. I would expect lots of discussion, lots of development and contribution to come up with a clear direction that everyone can write towards in this environment, but even so, they aren’t the sole makers of meaning.

Director?

Interestingly, a director isn’t listed in the programme. Usually, directors incorporate all the different voices within a creative team to steer the multitude of elements towards the same goal: a particular artistic vision or moral message. As the play doesn’t have a director, there are several directions and messages the play takes as opposed to a singular creative vision, favouring instead lots of different pieces of media to influence and shift the direction of the show, similar to flicking through the channels on TV.

Actors?

In this sort of theatre making environment, the line between actor, writer and director is significantly blurred. However, there was such a rich variety of different acting styles and intentions that the role of the actor seems to shape some of the meaning significantly. One of the standout moments of the show was when an actor, desperately clinging to her persona of Alyssa Edwards, had her wig removed and told a story about being anxious in a Subway. Oddly enough, it was one of the most interesting, vulnerable, profound character developments and monologues in the show. I’d be really interested to know how much the individual actor put into that, because, lovely as it was, the meaning and intention of it seems out of place with what was already established in the rest of the narrative. I suppose the brevity of TV and this generational reliance on superficiality was the main thing I got from the show as a whole, but this monologue seemed to hint at authenticity and writing your own definition of originality. I’d love to see some kind of extension of that monologue as like a one woman show, that would be super cool.

Of course, in this kind of festival context, programming and producing also plays a role in the perception of meaning as much as the show and word of mouth:

Marketers / Marketing?

The blurb which lists the show describes it as “a glorious technicolor dreamshow that shoves high and low culture into a room together and invites us all to watch”. That description aptly sums up what it was – a very energetic fun collage of different TV impersonations and references, in this shared viewing experience for all. However, it fails to mention what the show does, what the intent is. Which makes me wonder if it’s –

Audience?

Is it my fault that I haven’t inferred a meaning from this show? If the piece is about viewing culture and watching and making connections between ideas and picking up on references, have I failed this show? Any meanings that I have got from this show feel like guesses or questions rather than answers. Is that my flaw, is it even a flaw?

I suppose all of these people need to connect and communicated via one central idea or concept in order to convey a meaning. But in the case of this show, I can only draw two possible meanings:

a. There isn’t a meaning.

b. There are so many meanings (because of the extent of topic and material covered) that it’s representative of the wealth of TV shows and media out there, and it’s actually an act of empowerment for the audience to select their own parts of the show that resonate with them and determine their own meaning.


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Image credit: Beatrice Debney