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Flux Capacitor

Phoenix's picture



Play in the City 028

Flux Capacitor

My mother decided when directing A Christmas Carol that she was going to make it steampunk. Steampunk is essentially science fiction if it were written by Victorian-era people. Hallmarks include airships, things covered in gears, and unusual mechanics such as limbs. Since A Christmas Carol is set in Victorian times, my mother made Bob Marley an Industrial Revolution inventor and dressed her narrators in hats covered with gears, mechanical arms, aviator clothing, and more. She also gave the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present a time machine, and I was lucky enough to be cast as Present.

That time machine was a work of art. I stood behind the dashboard while poor Scrooge sat strapped into the side. First, I flipped a switch that would turn on a plasma disc. Lightning appeared to flicker inside. This we called the Flux Capacitor, out of the movie Back to the Future. Then, I switched on the machine, first at a low level, which caused a piston to pump and the handles of a large clock to turn. I powered it slowly up to make it go faster, hovered at a high speed, and powered it slowly down, all in time with a sound effect and flashing lights. Then, theoretically, I turned both the engine and the flux capacitor off. Theoretically, I say, because throughout all rehearsals, I never remembered to turn the flux capacitor off. So much of my mind was taken up by timing the engine precisely with the sound that the little plate of lightning, which ran all by itself, slipped my mind every time. I went so far as to tape a sign to the dashboard, but to no avail.

For the first performance, I noticed halfway through the next scene that the flux capacitor was still on. I couldn’t go back to fix it without disrupting the flow of the scene. Irritation with myself nagged at me, and weighed down my acting. For the second performance, the actor playing Scrooge whispered “Flux capacitor” to me as I left the time machine. I turned around and, reasonably seamlessly, switched it off, but I was still irritated that I had needed reminding, onstage at that. The third and final performance, I got it right. I switched off the flux capacitor, exactly when I was supposed to, no reminders needed. The relief, the happiness that coursed through me at having finally, finally, pulled off a perfect time travel, was enough to boost the rest of my performance the highest it had ever been. I was the most joyful Present in the streets of London, the most condemning while sheltering Want and Ignorance beneath my cloak. My mother said afterwards that I had never been so much the Ghost of Christmas Present as I was that night.

Theatre is always a form of play, but this particular moment as the Ghost was deep play. Diane Ackerman separates deep play from simple play by specifying that deep play involves ecstasy. “In its thrall,” says Ackerman, “all the play elements are visible, but they're taken to intense and transcendent heights.” I became the Ghost that night, transcending the boundaries of logistics to take my acting to a new height. I add to this that deep play is experienced rarely, that it involves an expansion of the senses and less of a reliance on thought, that it is intensely personal, that it includes a sense of freedom, and that, although one can intentionally work toward the optimum conditions for deep play, deep play itself happens freely and cannot be done on purpose.

Writing can be deep play. I write my best scenes like this, usually in the dead of night, my battle scenes, my climaxes. It follows, then, that critical writing could be deep play. I have never experienced this. Most of my critical writing is not play at all. However, in the correct field and with the correct person, writing for work is not work at all, but play, and thus has the potential to be deep play. To be capable of producing ecstasy, and indeed, fulfill my other criteria, the writing would need to be near effortless. Effort in writing requires thought, dampens the senses, and is binding rather than freeing. Effortless writing occurs very rarely, but when it does, it is absolutely ecstasy-inducing.

Had I managed to write one of my papers using deep play, I expect that it would have turned out much like my creative writing with deep play does. The sentences would be better structured, the vocabulary choices near perfect, and the paper on the whole more intense and thought-provoking. Unfortunately, this would require, essentially, waiting for the mood to strike, which is not in the least conducive to deadlines. What a pity my time machine was only a prop!