I quickly learned that Los Angeles is not the city or culture for me. I lived there only eight months and during that time, felt that I was losing more and more of myself everyday. I had a moment that illustrated my feelings about Los Angeles while walking to the gym one typically sunny and cloud-free LA la day. As I was waiting to cross the street, I looked over at this figure of public art that stood next to me. It was just beautiful. The image was of three or four nude art-deco style women in silver, which were holding up a latticed tower that said HOLLYWOOD. I love public art and I thought “this image is just stunning”! I examined it more closely, noting the pores in the metal and then I reach out and touched it, as I do with most things I find interesting, and found that the entire thing was made out of…plastic.
That very moment, I decided I was moving out of LA and heading back to New York. That statue embodied exactly how I felt about the city: glossy and beautiful on the outside, but founded in illusion.
Knowing that this industry is founded in illusion, why not play with it?
I love social experiments. I had a theory that if some number of friends and I were to go to a bar and “play the role” of a superstar, complete with tag-alongs, the silent best friend and the attention grabbing butt-monkeys, all surrounding the “star”, that people would treat us differently and saddle up next to us to try to be a part of whatever it is we had.
This is what we did: There were a few bars in the area that were known as “the IN-bars”. Several friends and I decided we were going to play super star and assigned roles amongst ourselves. As I had come up with the idea, everyone agreed I should play the star. I dressed up in my loudest of outfits–orange retro leather jacket and fat Elvis-era sun glasses. We arrived at the bar and two of my friends made their way trough the crowded in-club, gently clearing a path, down which, I strutted. More friends cleared a table and put my chair at the center, facing the room. Other friends playing the Butt-monkeys grabbed drinks and piled in around the central focal point, which was the “star”, which I attempted to play as cool as possible.
What happened? Some men got angry. They loudly asked, “Who the f*ck does he think he is, Danny Brasco”? But then it started. Ladies subtly at first made their way over to our table with drink in hand and would pose while sucking on their drink straw, trying to be noticed. We could hear clusters of people around us, asking, “Who is that”?
We created the illusion of importance–executed by orchestrated energy–with all of the choreographed energy focused on the star…and the room responded. Suddenly drinks showed up at the table from a few ladies across the room. “How far can we take this?”, I thought.
I have done many other social experiments since that time.
While living in Taiwan, one night a female friend and I were going out dancing. I said, “Tonight, I am going to be Brad Pitt. I am going to allow myself to believe I am a super star and am going to party as such and carry that energy into the club”. She agreed to be Jennifer Aniston, as they were together at the time.
What ensued was amazing. As we walked up to the doors, straight past the red rope (as though that was not meant for us, being stars), the bouncers just opened the doors. We walked right past the cover charge, as though there was no way we would have to pay, considering, and we walked into a pumping dance floor with upwards of 600 people in it.
Apparently, my performance was convincing enough. The pumping room full of people…what did they do? They parted like the red sea. I started pointing towards random people and they jumped up and down and waved. Next thing I knew, I was in the center of a dance circle. Having this sort of attention, I wanted to experiment further. So, I created some ridiculous dance moves, accompanied with a loud whistle rhythm and do you know what? The whole room followed. It started with pockets of people and then more and then more until the whole room was doing this silly mock disco-era move and whistle.
Next thing I know, I am picked up by several guys and put high up on the stage, atop a large sound speaker. A spot light is put upon me and I got the whole room chanting together, doing outlandish silly moves, jumping up and down and whistling.
That was a fun night.
What did I learn? It is not what things are that is important, but what things seem to be. Apparently, I was able to convincingly “seem to be” a big star and the people responded accordingly.
That lead me to think a lot about how the world views us, based on how we project outwardly to the world.
I heard a quote once, which really resonated with me. Here it is: “Be what you wish to seem”.
Jim Hart is the founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway