Meet Cody, adult artist in View From the Tracks: The Light Rail Plays, paired with Alex, youth artist
People are fascinating, frustrating, openly closed off, complex creatures. They have their wants, needs, and values that either bring them together or push them away from each other. It seems, at least from my observations, that our current way of living hinges on one’s individual comfort. Will you be ostracized? Will you be accepted? How much of myself can be seen? Shared? For me, as a writer, my interest comes from how people create communities and what they are willing to present/sacrifice to gain that acceptance.
When asked to participate in the Light Rail Plays, I couldn’t have been more stoked. For me, the light rail is such a unique place. Traveling at almost 100 mph through a major metropolis on a large, aluminum tube, the light rail train cars almost become aquariums for Homo Sapiens. In as “natural” an environment as can be on public transportation, human behavior feels uninterrupted, uncensored. Passengers on the train are free to take in this shared space as needed. Maybe it’s the fact they’re getting off at the next station. Maybe it’s because they are veterans using the same closed circuit day in and day out as a means of daily existence. For whatever the reason, as we’ve worked on these plays, I’ve started seeing people in different, unexpected ways.
I came onto this project with a bit of an agenda. I had this feeling that people on the light rail seemed colder than they did walking around. As it seems everything is high speed nowadays (internet, phones, TV, etc.), I assumed people would be less engaged. More defensive. In my previous experiences on the light rail, people appeared to live in a bubble. They had their books or Iphones or coffees and we’re given free reign to “zone out.” It was as if a hidden “code” or “system” was in place that you either accepted or found yourself ostracized from the group. With out project, Alex and I were interested in this presumed system: when was it OK to talk to a stranger and when was it better to stay away. What was a “safe” experience versus one that left you to be “brave.” Little did we know that the system wasn’t so much built on expectations but a person’s own barriers set up for their own engagement in social life or protection.
However, as we’ve done research and built our play, I’m starting to realize people are less complex than we make them out to be. More often than not, the system is built in our own minds. We see someone, we’re not sure how to react, then they get off and the moment has passed. We thought that if you do something big and bold (pull ups on a light rail, dancing on the platform, saying hello to a stranger) people would be put off. Instead, they were engaged. They wanted the show. In contrast, when it was a subtle gesture (asking someone to move a bag to sit down, smiling, sitting next to the sweaty person on the train), people became defensive, the trust was gone. To me, the Light Rail Plays has become more about our contradictions than our fears. We want connection but don’t move out of our shell. We want to express ourselves to the fullest and want someone else to do it first. The full spectrum of human emotions can happen in the blink of a 100 MPH train ride. If someone asked me to describe this experience in one sentence, here’s my response. “Hop on and try it out, it’s OK to be surprised.”