Believe it or not, this is the very first 850 word story of something like the ten I wrote for NATURE maybe at least a decade ago and now with AI they can really do it, and indeed may be doing it already
I’ve been a man of the theater for over a century, old enough to have played Hamlet, and Richard, any number of Henries, and Lear before my first rejuvenation, and in my own flesh and on the stage, not as an avatar, licensed or otherwise. You remember the theater, don’t you?
Of course you don’t. There hasn’t been a play produced in what, a quarter of a century. The characters must be played by live actors, not software emulations the dead greats of yesteryear who never played the parts themselves, and certainly not by one of myself.
And not because I could not compete with these pathetic avatars. Most of the roles in realies are played by the greats of the past, because their fleshware templates being dead before the downloading technology was available, they’ve all been merely synthesized from old footage by the entertainment conglomerates which owned the rights, and walk mechanically through the roles like the virtual robots they are, not even the virtual ghosts of true thespians.
What is more, I was offered an emulation contract many long years age, which I scornfully turned down. Yes, I was that good. Good enough so that they were willing to pay me royalties for the use of my avatar even though they had a free casting call from over a century of film and television. But I would not betray the theater for any amount of money.
The theater, they declare, is obsolete. Why would anyone pay money to watch third rate human actors staggering around on a platform in front of a flat painted set when they can tap into full virtual realies telling the same story, if it’s any good, with smell, and taste, and touch, and pleasure center stimulation, within a fully-realized world that can be synthesized for the cost of theatrical sets alone. And to reach what demographics? A few thousand people a day when the same budget is a hit machine tapped by scores of millions!
The theater is dead.
But the theater must not die. Those who do not understand why have never set foot on a stage before a live audience. I may be the last man alive who has. You have not seen those shining eyes riveted on you beyond the footlights, you have not smelled the heady aroma of an expectant live audience. Yes, I know, if there was any interest in such ancient history, you could experience it in a realie. Or so you believe.
But the magic of the theater cannot be emulated, the intimate connection between the human actor and a live audience. For when the play succeeds, there is a collaboration between the actors and the audience, the actors and the audience live and breath together, a community of the spirit in which the reaction of the audience influences the actors and shapes the live audience’s experience itself. A positive feedback loop, as you moderns would so unromantically have it.
If the “entertainments” which fill so much of the populace’s hours are all soul-less realies without dramas acted out by fellow humans in such intimacy with a living community, life itself will be entirely reduced to virtuality. Has it not already happened in the retirement heavens, where zombies are tapped into a thousand available channels of realies twenty four hours a day? The life support technology already exists and it only awaits a profitable business model for the entire population of the planet to dream their lives away as the solipsistic gods of their perpetual virtual heavens.
This is neither drama nor life. This is tyranny with an entertaining face.
If the theater dies, so dies the human spirit. For only a great act of theater can re-awaken it.
Antonin Artaud wrote of the Theater of Cruelty. Do not amuse your audience. Be cruel to your audience in order to seize and hold it.
I shall go him one further.
The King will be parading from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament in his magnificently baroque horse-drawn carriage and in full costume, like the penultimate actor that he is, his simple performance witnessed live by throngs gathered along the way to experience first hand the Royal Presence.
I shall wear the costume I wore when I played Othello the Moor, which no doubt will be taken for that of a Caliphate terrorist, and the sword I shall use will be a scimitar, which I shall plunge into the Royal breast before I detonate the explosives under my robes. It should bring on the long-awaited war. Thus will I remind the world of the sovereign power of an act of live theater.
And my last line on the stage will be that declaimed in like manner by a scion of a noble theatrical family whose name yet lives for the ages. Not that of the great Edmond but that of his otherwise mediocre brother.
John Wilkes Booth.
“Sic semper tyranus!”
1 rue de la Bucherie
Source: Auto Draft