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The Viral Age, Part 1

Monday, November 15, 2010 Leave a Comment

During the ends of the aughts (which we are technically still in, no?), I spent some time prowling this web of ours looking for what it would be named. Most of the names seemed to revolve around some unfortunate rhyme with aughts (Naughty Aughties?); but after seeing Mac Rogers' Viral (adventurous theatre producers, read it, recover, then produce it) I thought about how viral was the perfect way to describe our current age, going beyond this decade into the next.

Yet, I suppose somewhat ironically, The Viral Aughts (or Age) has not exactly caught on, or so says our friend Google. Yet the metastasizing power of online thought to spread for good or ill seems the defining characteristic of our age; and whether you wax poetic about its possibilities or lament its dangers, it must be wrestled with. This is the first of a series of posts that will explore what impact the Viral Age will have (and is already having) on theatre, and vice verse.

The first change is that now everything is local; or more specifically, everything local is also global. The idea that we’re now all intimately connected would be old if it wasn’t for the fact that, like that other old/new idea, quantum physics, we still don’t fully understand it.

An example occurred over this weekend. TDF announced that there would be no Wasserstein Award, because none of the 19 plays met their judges’ standards. Twenty years ago, there might have been a letter to an editor. But there might not have even been that; those who stumbled upon the news might simply have thought the award one among many, and entitled to execute the mission of that award to the best of their personal judgment.

But that is local thinking. Now, a decision about 19 plays made by a few people in a room takes on national significance. It becomes a symbol for the ongoing gender inequity in season selection. As a result, what might have previously seemed a local disappointment now seems a national injustice, and a petition (which I signed) achieves 800 signatures in a few days, and a national movement is born to read the 19 plays.

We see this playing out in politics: candidates are seen through an ideological and national lens first, with practical, local concerns secondary. And so moderate Republicans and southern Democrats grow increasingly rare; and so candidates with little experience but the right national ideology are catapulted to fame.

And in many ways, that’s a good thing. Because those decisions made by a few people in small rooms may have seemed local, but cumulatively they led to national consequences; including gender inequity in season selection.

It is no longer possible to make local decisions without considering their long term global impact, not only because the world has run out of frontiers, and our pioneer actions now must live neighbor to their consequences; but because the whole world really is watching.

But whatever good there is in this Viral Age, there are also major challenges; because however our online selves might lap up the miles, our bodies still sleep in a single bed. And I’m worried that we’re neglecting the wisdom of the local for the global, and I wonder what role theatre might play in finding a balance.

That’s for another post; I need to leave to spend some time with good people in a small room…playing Family Feud.


  • Isaiah Tanenbaum said:  

    It's actually even better news, Gus. TDF is going to re-examine the 19 nominees, along with the entire voting process, with the goal of providing a 2010 prize after all.


    So not only was the news spread virally, but it produced a quick and effective policy reversal. Hard to imagine that happening even a few years ago.