One of the most pleasant discoveries during my visit to Seattle was The Market Theater in the Post Alley. This theater features exclusively improvised plays. That can result in an excellent display of talent or a disastrous failure. I had the opportunity to see both. The modality that works better is the “theater sports” where two teams compete against each other and the audience throws topics for the sketches. It is the kind of entertainment that you can afford every day. Literally, the tickets sell for $5 and for $15 depending on the event. Sundays are free as you can see a group of students putting together a play base in a single word or situation. Last Sunday it was rainy, and I was the only one that came to the show, so fifteen students played for me for one hour and a half. They improvised a play based on the word “market” that I suggested. With very few lags, those kids delivered a clever piece of entertainment; much better than many paid shows I have seen in the past.
That triggered my interest in studying the talent of the actor as a subject for psychology. The amount of information these people digest, use and twist with efficacy reveals not just a privileged brain but an emotional virtuosity that allows them to land a punch line less than two seconds after receiving the first stimulus. That task is way more difficult than just memorizing lines and delivering expressions with plasticity. So far this outstanding ability is displayed for entertainment, which I consider an underutilization of a precious talent.
That reminds me the time when engineering knowledge was used mostly for toys and amusement. We played with electricity and magnetism for many centuries before digging into their principles. And even after getting to the Maxwell equations, it took us another generation to actually apply this information to mass communication. I think that art and sensitivity are following the same path. We are just playing with music, words and images. We know that logos stick in our minds, we know that speeches drag nations to war, and we know that well-told stories persuade more than a piece of legislation. Yet, we haven’t used art as the powerful and transforming tool it can be. Yes, we have “propaganda” and “marketing”, but they work on an empiric basis, not in a general body of acknowledge. This body can’t be just a group of observations and statistic machinery since effective art involves fluent ties with emotional abilities. For a theoretical body to exist we first need to create the emotional algebra that explains our basic reactions.
We know from experience that, in emotional algebra, one plus one may be different than two. Numbers may be the wrong alphabet to spell emotions.
In the mean time we keep playing with the sparks we get when a part of our brain touches a particular spot in our heart. At that moment the musician makes us cry, the comedian makes us laugh and the politician makes us vote. But we have not yet the tools to understand what is really happening.
An emotional algebra would mark an era where artists will stop making toys (as commercials and comedies) and will start leading social transformation. Then, they’ll top the pyramid of prestige on society, as it was done by warriors in the past and by technocrats in the present.