Performing Ourselves: Why Social Media is 25% Larger than Life

I have always been drawn to acoustic performance. I love the authentic, stripped back timbre of a singer’s voice. I like the fact that you can’t hide behind the volume or be disguised by the electronic mixing. Perhaps this is why I ended up studying theatre for years.

And my study of theatre took me to unexpected places. I went from the mainstream deep into the avante garde of the early 20th Century – spending time immersed in the dark, imaginative worlds of Frank Wedekind, Antonin Artaud and Heiner Muller. I emerged, later, in the powerfully vibrant theatres of Howard Barker, Penny Arcade and Robert Wilson – where words, identity and action burned the scripts, bounced off the walls and scarred or transformed not just the audiences, but the performers too.

I learned over the years the difference between intuition and imagination, between intelligence and understanding, and that was is written is not always what is performed. The gap between text and performance excited me. Why, for example, is one performer’s version better or worse than another’s? No matter the song, it can only be a matter of words, right?

But there is an intangible sense that comes with performance. It’s about purpose and intent, and the need to step beyond what we say. We need to inhabit the very limits of who we are – physically and emotionally. In the theatre, Etienne Decroux – a physical theatre practitioner – created a grammar for the bodily articulation of movement. He discovered that to appear REAL to an audience, performers had to appear 25 percent larger than they are. Yes, they needed to be larger than life.

In social media we see this everyday. A predominantly text based form, social media in various guises requires that we write ourselves into existence. It requires us to write as a performance. And those participants who appear REAL are larger than the words that they use, their ideas magnified through the lens of Twitter, Facebook or blogs. Look at any one of the individuals you are drawn to in social media and ask yourself how much of this person do you know? How much is real and how much is performance? Are they 25% larger than life?

In the social media world of micro-celebrity, there is much we can learn from “real” celebrities – from performers who have mastered the art of celebrity as performance.

Over the coming weeks I will be sharing my thoughts on various performers and what we can learn from them as social media participants – and what it means for brands and businesses wanting beginning or already engaged in their social media performance.

2 thoughts on “Performing Ourselves: Why Social Media is 25% Larger than Life

  1. Brilliant article, as usual.
    Made me think of a personal projet : i’m currently working on project aiming at experiencing famous old texts (shakespeare, etc.) through new technologies.
    Given the fact Othello was witten :
    1. on paper
    2. to be played (mainly in england, traveling was crazy at that time)
    There’s a lot of new ways to tell this story. Via real time mediums (telephone, mail, facebook…), in new places, etc.
    I’ll keep you posted!

  2. Interesting idea that I’d not thought of before.
    Is it that a performer needs to be larger than life to appear real or larger than life to attract and hold the attention of the audience however?
    Do we know (sub-consciously) that the performer isn’t ‘real’ as such, but because we find them interesting we accept them as a reality?
    Do we need to analyse the ‘cult of celebrity’ to improve our understanding of how a successful social media campaign could be undertaken?
    I like it…

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