I have been learning a lot about the genre of Realism in theatre and how it began. One of the concepts I find intriguing about Realist theatre is the idea of the fourth wall and how theatre makers proceed to break it. In a Realist set, which is referred to as a Box set, the Designers job is to make the stage look exactly as it would in real life. It’s a slice of the real world represented on stage. If the play is set in a living room, then it will look precisely like one you would live in. There will be furniture, lights, the television, the radio, the works! A ceiling, even a roof if you’re lucky, three walls and a fourth wall. The fourth wall is represented by the audience. Realist plays are acted on a proscenium arch stage which allows for little to no actor-audience interaction. The audience is therefore declared non-existent this the concept of the fourth wall. The actors are required to act as if the audience is not watching them.
I know this sounds like a Theatre lecture but bare with me, we are getting closer to harvest. I am just planting seeds here.
The other day, I was looking out at the night sky from my balcony and I couldn’t help but feel suffocated. Firstly, by the city around me. The skyscrapers like mega sized legos stacked up on any space left vacant by us. The bridges that make no landmark impossible to reach. Then there was the lights, lights everywhere like I was experiencing double vision which really I wasn’t, it was the extent (perhaps out of fear) to which we have tried to convince ourselves of our existence. Both the city and it’s inhabitants were desperate to stay awake. So afraid to go to sleep. Even when the dark sky demanded us to do so. Which led me to my second instigator to my anxiety attacks, the sky. The thought of it going on forever. The vastness of it was overwhelming. The idea of there being so much sky that I could barely fathom was really….. out of this world, if you will. And in all honesty it shook in a breeze that crawled into and under my skin. I even tried to spread my arms wide open to gain whatever but of control I could accumulate, to measure the part of the sky that was allocated to me, and to claim that portion for myself, into my own world.
The epiphany in all of this happened when i likened my anxiety to that of the realist actors. How they must feel every time they step on stage. Believing the idea that there is no fourth wall, that the audience does not exist and all that they are doing on stage is for themselves and perhaps to some degree futile because of the possibility of the entire act being unsatisfactory. It’s almost like they are acting out a real world that nobody can prove because of the illusion of the fourth wall. Therefore, inside that box set, that world is still a made up one.
As a means to regain my sanity, look in out into that newly discovered bays. I tried to imagine another world that certainly had an existing outside to, and not one I had been to. The rhythm of a childhood song led me to thinking of planets. The suggestion or rather inference that there are many many many other vast unfathomable galaxies that are skies to other worlds. And as glandular as that sounds, likened it to the sound of a giggling audience member or chattering and creaking coming from the dark auditorium, there are other planets!
We dont only call it the “auditorium ” because initial plays required the audience to rely on what they could hear rather than what they could see and in their case ” partially see” is the correct term because of the outdoor setting of that time. The other reason is an analogy devised on the rather informal setting of my balcony. But I figured it is also referred to as an auditorium because a contemporary realist play would also require the actors to rely on what they can hear coming from the dark auditorium as a reminder that there actually is a reason to all this mimesis on stage.
Thus, The breaking of the fourth wall by both the actor and audience. The restoration of my sanity through a process that actually requires you to let go of it a little. And the dysfunctional functionality of the world. And me, stepping back inside my room. And you, actually going to sleep.