October 2005

I was just taking my usual jaunt through websites this morning at work, occasionally exclaiming to myself and my co worker Tania about how awesomely this pot of coffee turned out today, and I dove right into Metafilter. There was a thread for Rosa Parks yesterday, with Metafilter’s trademark linear constellation of single periods to indicate a moment of silence, a show of respect. Scattered amongst the stops were various links to interviews, a bit of the ol’ MeFi cynicism about Parks’ impact and associations since her famous refusal to acquiesce to segregation, and then, this comment by dhartung caught my eye:

Rosa Parks is the answer to “What can one person do?”

Cranberry, you should read the PDF linked by spock. It was, in fact, what an entire community did, carefully choosing Parks as the perfect symbol. She wasn’t even the first person to be arrested. By marshalling their forces, sticking together as a group over the course of a year of personal hardship, the community of Montgomery was forced to concede — and the civil rights movement was given a morally energizing victory, one that still resonates today, where many others have been forgotten.

In many ways we don’t have a language for community action; we need to have symbolic heroes.

Now, you may think for just a shining, glowing second that I might be suggesting that ARGs are a sure-fire way to bridge that gap, a way to create a working vocabulary for those things that we do as a group in order to further a cause, to progress, to fix, to heal a wound, to solve a problem.

I’m not sure I could claim that, and back it up. We still look to our leaders, our heroes, whether they are self-selected, appointed by those who control resources, or whether they emerge suddenly through circumstance or serendipity.

But I do wonder sometimes, when we’re furiously working in IRC to solve a cipher and putting together over 200 assets to make a story, if we’re somehow striking flint and getting the sparks of that language of community, in spite of our propensity for singular symbols.

The stage play Noises Off starts off with a terribly rocky dress rehearsal for a farce being performed by a theatre company with more than its fair share of problems – distracted actors, disgruntled techs, and an overbearing director.

The production I saw several months ago really pointed up those awkward silences that occur when some actor has forgotten her cue. Deer-in-the-headlights is the best description for the glaze that occurs for the poor souls on stage. The near-obsessive tic of eyes flicking towards the door that’s supposed to have opened unexpectedly 30, 45, 55 seconds ago.

It isn’t until you get to the second act that you literally get to see the other side of the action. For fancier playhouses the entire stage rotates until you see the backstage area in all its weird, ramshackle barrenness. For the house we saw it in, we had to memorize our seat number, gather our coats, and walk through the stage right set door to the back, and find our new seats.

It’s now the play, in its entirety – every lecherous moment, every hysterical hissed whisper for a missing prop, the preening and pinning and smoothing before sweeping out into that brilliant light and projecting one’s voice to the back of the house.

In the current ARG I am playing, Last Call Poker, there are updates scheduled for Wednesdays and Saturdays. From experience, every single other day of the week those puppetmasters are surely scrambling and tweaking and even occasionally finding the rare moment to breathe and try to view the game as a whole, as a color, as a single note pressed on a piano keyboard.

I crave those 7 days far more than I thought I would have.

I love to play, to be the player – a contributor, a helper, a moderator, a lurker. But I desire and feel my fingers itch insanely for that backstage grit, for that abject horror of a missed cue and the air high-fives when you come to the dressing room after nailing that monologue. Sometimes, there’s bouquets of flowers, but really, it’s the grime of old makeup, the smell of astringent and hairspray, the scratchy wool of period costumes, the clean sweat of a rigorous third act, the absolute discipline and 500% given from waking moment to narcoleptic coma. The accolades are the game. The game is everyone. Moment to moment.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: being a puppetmaster is the best drug I’ve ever been on.