What makes a play a play?

Ever since I saw the ‘Phantom of the Opera’, I have been wondering what makes a play a play. As I endeavor to try to unravel the mystery behind my wonderment, I need to reckon that my exposure to plays is limited. In all my life I have seen just three plays in a theatre and all of them have been musicals. I have never acted in any play, except for some small dramas in my Church fellowship. So my exploration of my idea of plays is entirely based on my inspiration on seeing the ‘Phantom of the Opera’, twice.

I think my wonderment started with the thought, “why the play is better than the movie?”. I was trying to ascertain the essence of the difference between the play and the movie. The movie and the play both primarily cater to the sense of sight, sound and spirit (intellect), but still they are different.
I think the essence of the difference which gives the play a whole new dimension which the movie lacks is that the play appeals to a different sense in human beings in a way that the movie can never appeal to – the ‘sense of reality’. Apart from our sense of sight, sound and intellect, we have a sense of reality. The sense of reality is our innate ability to sense that which is real from that which is illusionary. The play has in it a sense of reality which the movie can never create. Perhaps, this ‘sense of reality’ sensitizes a very deep part of the human essence that is otherwise untouched.
In the movies, when an actor raises his hand once, it is captured in digital or analog data and then replayed to recreate the illusion of the actor raising his hands again on a screen millions of times before billions of audience. But with the play when an actor raises the hand, it is done in a ‘real’ way each time, and the audience sees the realness of the sights and the sounds. This realness causes a part of our being to liven up, which otherwise is pretty much dead.
Owing to my limited vocabulary, I lack the right words  to describe this part of human nature which livens up when it interacts with the ‘realness’ of life. I do not know much of human psychology or human nature to know what word in human lexicon describes what I want to describe best, so I think I’ll coin a new word for this – Quillity (kind of rhymes with quiddity. Quiddity is the sense of ‘whatness’ of things).
Let me define Quillity as the sense of realness of human relationship in the interaction (or the activity) that appeals to our ‘sense of reality’ in a way beyond the simple ‘space-time’ dimension. For example, the quillity in chatting with one’s sweet heart in facebook is less when compared to chatting in a restaurant. The ‘realness’ of human relationship in the experience makes all the difference.
To delve a little more on what other areas would find some application for the word ‘quillity’, I would like to start with a question.Why did God not just imagine human beings as a dream in His mind? Why did he not just make a movie of human history in His mind? Why did He have to create ‘real’ flesh and blood human beings who are distinct from Him and then allow each of them to ‘really’ play on the Stage? Afterall, the brilliant poet said, ‘All the world’s a stage’, Why did Go have to create the stage at all? The answer is I believe in the ‘need for quillity’ in the experience of love. God is love, He cannot love without quillity, for love cannot operate in a world where there is no relational realness. For in love if there is no relational realness, then love becomes unreal. If love becomes unreal, then God who is the embodiment of love become (un)God. God cannot make love go unreal because to do that would be to aninhilate Himself. So He created flesh and blood human being to love them. God wants quillity in human relationship.

In fact, when I was watching the Phantom of the Opera the second time, at the end of the play, I saw the actors come up to bow to the audience. I felt a sense of love for them. The emotion wasn’t just adoration, there was a tinge of love-longing. Somewhere in the deeper part of my human nature the quillity (relational realness) of the experience had fostered within me a love for them. I believe that it is here the play touches a part of human nature, in a way the movie can never be. I have watched umpteen movies, and there are some movies I have watched umpteen times, infact I have watched the movie of the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ more than once. But in the movies, I never felt any love-longing for the actual actors. I think it was probably because the place somewhere deep within me, where the spring of love has its source, can only be touched by the sense of ‘relational realness’ of the object – the quillity of the object. In movies, the sense of the ‘unrealness’ of the object is often the pervading force, so they cannot reach out the that part of human nature which longs for ‘relational realness’. With the play, it is the ‘sense of reality’ or the ‘relational realness’ that is its appeal – it is the quillity that makes a play a play.

Author: Emmanuel R Paulpeter

I am a writer, spiritual director, life coach and a Church Planter who love all things pop culture, theology and spirituality.

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