Project Proposal 2014-733: "The Role of a Lifetime"
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Title: The Role of a Lifetime


  • Tatemae
  • One (1) "façade"-type identity template
  • Reality disruption agent
  • The idea of Theater
  • Megaphone

Abstract: A simple director's megaphone, composed of a cone of wood, cardboard, or other suitably stiff material (the actual material of the device is irrelevant, so long as the device looks like the stereotypical director's megaphone). When "cut" is called through the device, it removes the learned behaviors and society norms of the individual, replacing them with those of the actor.

In essence, the person will become convinced that rather than being whoever they thought they were before, that they are an actor playing their previous persona in a stage or film production. The individual recognizes his role in the grand farce of existence and acts accordingly, willingly taking direction from the user.

The actors are some of the best I've ever worked with: compliant, patient, always willing to take criticism, and I believe their performance speaks for itself. My only complaint is that they have a tendency to fall into a role. If the direction goes too far away from the established role, the quality of their performance drops steeply.

I’ve also found that the actors can leave the “set” entirely, going “backstage”. Not wanting to detract from the point of the piece with irrelevant ethical questions, I have avoided resuming the performance until all actors are accounted for. When I asked one of them what it was like, he seemed confused, saying “It’s… it’s backstage. Don’t you know what that is?” When I inquired further, he only seemed to get more agitated. This seems to happen whenever inconsistencies are pointed out. The actors don’t seem to understand the question, perceiving it as stupid or nonsensical.

Intent: Like a lot of writers and directors, I've often wondered how "real" my characters are. If I could somehow manifest them in reality, would they function as people? I tried this in my 2005 piece Character Study. As that piece so beautifully demonstrated, while characters often appear to act as real people, this is a surprisingly thin disguise (apologies to gallery seventeen).

This time, I decided to try the reverse. Rather than take a character and make them real, this piece takes a real person and reduces them to a character. Unlike Character Study, the piece acts directly on the audience, which I hope will give a more comprehensive experience.

The piece is, first and foremost, meant to inspire doubt and questioning in the audience. Because both their normal state and their behavior within the scope of the piece feel equally real, lucid, and plausible, they are forced to come to terms with the idea that they may, in fact, be nothing more than someone else’s character, literally or figuratively.

Characters, by their very nature, can only present the façade of being a full human being. Even the deepest of characters cannot be whole conceptualized people, as this would imply that the author has developed a full extraneous personality (which is normally considered a sign of mental illness).

By assaulting the locus of control of the audience, the piece attacks one of the most fundamental axioms around which the human experience is constructed: namely, that the individual is in control of their actions. Shifting the locus very rapidly from the somewhat internal position of the average psyche to the very much external environment present in the piece is meant to cause severe psychic disorientation.

The secondary goal is to call attention to the discrepancy between the outward appearance, known in Japanese as tatemae, and the actual self, known as honne. The audience must then question the lies, the half-truths, the omissions that form their outward persona, and whether or not such a persona is an independent construction, capable of existing as a concept on its own, or whether it is intrinsically linked to the internal, though not necessarily “true” self. By equating the tatemae façade used in polite society with the authorial façade used to create fictional characters, the audience is left to simultaneously doubt their own moral integrity, as well as the very integrity of the world around them.

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