When I was six I wanted a skin-head wig. I’d seen the ads in the back of comic books; the man wearing the skin-head wig was as bald as a mannequin.
I got my mother to help me send in the money and then I’m pretty sure I forgot all about it. Still, when it arrived three weeks later I was excited. I ripped off the brown outer mailing cover and, even through the plastic pouch, it was disappointing.
The color was what a Crayon company might call Flesh Yellow. Also, it didn’t fit. There was nothing to secure the sideburns, so they hung down like extra-long earlobes.
Nonetheless I tromped around the neighborhood and approached groups of kids, announcing that I was now bald. The other first graders laughed or rolled their eyes or just said “No, you’re not.”
But there was one strange thing. Even though the swim cap on my head fooled none of my peers, it fooled all of the fourth graders. They were baffled, curious about how and when this phenomenon had manifested.
Even at six-years old I understood what was happening but I wasn’t going to say it, and I was pretty sure they wouldn’t either. The wig was my entree’ into the world of fourth graders, who were hilarious and always glad to see me. I remember that one of them invited me on a scavenger hunt.
In theatre, we talk about suspension of disbelief, but the dynamics of watching a play are more complicated than that. It’s rare that we’re really transported. If we’re supposed to be in Denmark we don’t see the battlefield or notice that the invisible castle walls need whitewashing.
A play is a skin-head wig. The actors are pretending for us and we’re pretending that we believe their pretending. This is part of the reason that the Would-You-Please-Stop-Whispering moment is so fraught. The offended audience member is annoyed for himself, yes; but he’s also protecting the actors, worried that they’ll hear that the audience isn’t being swept away.
The play is a performance but it’s also a contract, and a fantastic one: not binding (on the audience side) based solely on goodwill. The contract is simple and generous: The actors don’t hear the whispering. The audience doesn’t notice the lobes.Follow @playwrightnowdotcom