The following article was published in N-SPHERE March 2011 issue.


When I was little, I wanted to be Winnetou… or that cowboy dude; whichever one the story was focused on when I was reading it. I even had a small wooden axe and stick for a horse. Either about dolls and tea ceremonies with dirt instead of liquid, or about cowboys and knights and sword fights with crummy sticks, each and every one of you has pretended to be someone else during childhood years. While growing up, the pretend game changes, it becomes more subtle and more sinuous, until it embeds itself into life to never ever disappear again. Here, at the beginning of a third millennium, counted from when humanity found it more suitable, with the entire technological substrate of society, things have not changed, but merely shifted, in that intricate pretend game we all call life.


Even before the world has been changed by the greatest pretend game of all times, there had already been an art dedicated to representations. In ancient Athens, about six centuries before year zero and stretching for about 300 years, the theatre was spawn and nourished as one of the arts. But what is theatre in essence? On a stage, a group of people will set up actions and words to convey a story, an emotion, a point to the audience. It sounds simple at first glance, but it is far from it. Even though the subject of a play depends highly on cultural and historical backgrounds, its complexity remains unchanged. Inside the theatre world, roles shift continuously, the identity of the player remains immutable under the masks, yet the projected image recreates itself, from costumes to gestures and words.

Ancient Roman theatre would use masks, large stone amphitheatres and full male casts. Elizabethan theatre would use circular open roof playhouses, expensive costumes and full male casts. Peking opera would combine music, vocals, mime, dance, acrobatics and full male casts. In the beginning of the most influential non–modern theatrical currents, women were banned from participating in plays, thus all roles were performed by the male actors. It all comes to a peak of pretend, as one not only needs to change appearance in order to perform, but also to change an entire view upon life and its particularities. Why, you say? Because there will always be a rift between male and female constraints leading to different experiences, believes and behaviours; even though contemporary society is not supporting most of them any more.


“Why, except as a means of livelihood, a man should desire to act on the stage when he has the whole world to act in, is not clear to me.” (George Bernard Shaw) asked the fake golden idol. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (William Shakespeare), said the turtle. “The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.” (Oscar Wilde), a grouchy voice was heard from behind the trees. A Buddhist monk walks in spreading knowledge. “Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator.” (Confucius) “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” (Henry David Thoreau) he continues and sits down pensively. So you see, this crazy idea of playing out life as a performance is not new. However, the roles are continuously changing.

With time, the advances in technology, the rift of society from permanently assigned roles (such as slavery, the vassal system, the Indian castes) to a more uniform organization, produced a large infusion of literary works in which the self was presented from two different perspectives, one of which was hidden and only visible under extraordinary circumstances. In 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson publishes the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Even though the short novel is usually associated with split personality, what could imped one to identify one of them with the actor and one with the character? The subject is not entirely lost in ages, as Jane plays the pretend game (whether she realises it or not) as Eve Black and Eve White in Nunnally Johnson’s The Three Face of Eve released on the silver screen in 1957.

The idea of playing the role of a lifetime in daily life is not far from modern playwright David Henry Hwang. His 1988 work, M. Butterfly, borders on fantasy, lies, betrayal and centres on shifting a person’s entire life around a single glorious performance. The role becomes life, it changes the entire set of morals for the actor and produces reverberations into the life of his audience. Song Liling plays for Rene Gallimard, he becomes a wife for the French diplomat, he brings him a child, he loves and dedicates himself to his role even when the illusion is over for his spectator. The props are even alive in the form of a baby, and the role is so masterfully played, that it engulfs the Frenchman completely, even causing his suicide.

“If all the world’s a stage, I want to operate the trap door.” (Paul Beatty) says the hare and jumps away through the bushes.


In the book Intelligent Control Systems (2002, Meystel et al.), Albus is stipulating that all intelligent life forms, be they alive or artificial, need an interface with the outside world. These sensory and executive elements, for instance the eyes or one’s hands, build an integrated mask around such object that contains them. The individual is thus seen as enclosed in a web of networked elements that help interact with the environment. Though incredibly useful, this interface presents also the gap between the stage and the audience. The dissociation between the self and the world allows for roles to be created, illusions to be projected, stages to be set and plays to be unravelled.

The third millennium society hides behind the most invisible mask of all: cyber–identity. From the creation of innocent avatars to the hidden self behind a monitor in the depths of fantasy, the virtual world offers a better, newer, infinite stage for human performance. The multitude of stages is only limited by time, since all of them require the actual presence of a human, even though interfaced by a computer. Second Life (2003, Linden Labs) is one of the largest virtual worlds in which characters are played by human operators and interacts through avatars, a representation of the projected self, much like the ancient theatre masks. From virtual spaces in which one can play an everyday role, to fantasy spawn mass–multi–player–online–role–playing–games, the current technological state is facilitating the need for humans to perform on a large stage.


I have recently stumbled upon a list of “101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived”. The homonym 2006 book written by Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan and Jeremy Salter presents a list of fictional and mythological characters that shaped future events throughout history, with argumentation. The great surprise was to find the Malboro Man in first place and Betty Boop at the 96th position. It seems that mini–skirts (sex) were not as attractive as brawns (cigarettes), heh. Returning to the topic, go see Annie. It is the most dreamed dream, the most desired role: to be saved. Either from poverty, orphanages, vices, loneliness, madness or reality, the human will always desire to be someone else, to be extracted from its own life. “I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the make–up made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked onto the stage he was fully born.” (Charlie Chaplin)

Remove your shoes, hurry on stage, wait for the curtains to rise and be like me, as I am the great pretender.

Quotes | Phideaux. Titan. 2005

text & artwork by Vel Thora

Full article here.