'W8ING' for Godot, Staged on a Phone
Sophia Le Fraga recontextualizes the most important play of the 20th century for the 21st.
Whenever there's nothing to be done, I'm on my phone.
This isn't a technophobic, “Where are our attention spans going?” fretting-type piece. If I want some of that fleeting deep focus that the handwringers worry we're losing, then I plug my phone into my stereo across the room and pump my “reading something mix,” and I'm fine.
I'm just observing that when I'm waiting for someone or something, I'll bust out the phone. It's not because I'm important, because I'm not, or because I want to talk to anyone, because I probably don't. It's just something to do, so I'm not that weird guy who's just standing there. When I'm holding my phone, I'm a normal guy doing a normal guy thing. My life is mostly anxiety and while not the only cause, my phone is a physical manifestation of this.
Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot opened on January 5, 1953 in the Theatre Babylone, Paris. It's been called the most important play of the 20th Century, and is sort of the Marcel Duchamp Fountain of plays. Waiting for Godot blew people away with its commitment to cutting superfluous things like plot or even mildly remarkable things happening.
I mean, I could explain it, but it's easier if you just watch it, adapted for the phone.
The stage play's setting is just “A country road. A tree. Evening.” The characters' only distinguishing traits are hats, the need to pee—the Fountain comparisons just flow, don't they?—and waiting for Godot. They have trouble with their boots, and maybe slept in the ditch last night and some other guy shows up dragging another, enslaved guy. But all the pressing questions raised by the title, like “who is Godot?” and “why are they waiting for him?” remain unadressed.
I guess this requires a SPOILER ALERT, even though I suspect that if you don't know about this already, you probably don't care, but: Godot doesn't show up. Double spoiler alert: there's two whole acts of him not showing up.
It's a great premise for a play: Everyone who has had unfulfilled desires can relate to that, which is to say that everyone can relate to it, from the most comfortable, privileged, straight white male college student (Hello!) to people in war-torn Sarajevo.
Beckett said specifically that Godot wasn't God, but if you're waiting for God to show up and he doesn't, that's a lot like this play. Plus Beckett only said that because so many people kept relating Godot to God, which isn't textually unsupported.
But you can fill the gap with whatever you've waited in vain for: a message from a friend, for the better world promised by Silicon Valley utopianists, for the worse world promised by the haters, for Hope & Change™, for international interventions, for someone who understands, for this essay to make some sort of point. (Reminder: Godot isn't coming.)
Anyway, the video above looks a lot more like waiting does to me personally, lately. Sophia Le Fraga is the poet who translated Beckett's play to the phone, then to a video. Kenneth Goldsmith, the poet who vowed to print the internet and who is to ready-made poetry what Duchamp is to ready-made art objects, blasted it out via Dazed Digital.
This version really ramps up the anxiety too. Godot is not only now more relatable to me, but it's also the successful achievement of a play without people. The moments that pass for events in Godot—characters uncomfortable in their shoes, eating a carrot, talking about the tree—can't happen here. We're living in a void that makes the original Godot look comparatively full. The nature of watching something alone, instead of in a theater where the play is performed by loveable actors like Patrick Stewart, rubs off the funnier parts of the play, and reopens its anxious wounds. Tip of the hat to you, Sophia. "Habit is a great deadener,” Beckett says, and W8ING reintroduces that sting that literary praise can dull.
Like I said, I'm not here to fret over using our phones. A lack of fulfillment isn't Apple's or the internet's fault. If Beckett is to be believed, it's always been around. And now it's slightly harder to distract myself from.