January 27, 2022

The Editor Speaks: Ti Jean & our smart phones

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Colin WilsonwebIt was a battle on Sunday (10) evening when I was at The Harquail Theatre to watch the Young At Arts production of Derek Walcott’s famous play “Ti Jean & His Brothers”.

The play is difficult enough to understand. Walcott explores the power of good versus evil, poor versus wealthy and the search for what defines humanness. This folk tale—told by the animals of the rainforest through dialogue, dance and song—tells the tale of a poor widowed mother, her three sons, and their bargain with the devil.

A demon challenges the three brothers to achieve the sympathy of the devil; if they show rage, however, they will be killed. The first brother, Gros Jean, is rather stupid and cracks when the devil and her (it is a woman in the play) minions taunt him by calling him different names. The second brother shows anger when he cannot catch a goat they assign him to capture. Both brothers are killed. Ti Jean sets out to defeat the devil, and is caught by two of the devil’s minions looking at his brother’s graves. They assign him to catch the same goat as before, which Ti Jean castrates. They tell him to count all the leaves in the sugar cane field, which he burns. The devil and her friends return, drunk, and discover that Ti Jean has also burnt down their house. The devil then becomes enraged. Ti Jean calls her out on this, and claims that he has won. The devil plays unfair and starts to kill Ti Jean’s mother, telling him that he will only win if he sings for her. Ti Jean’s animal friends encourage him to sing, which he does. The devil feels sympathy and grants Ti Jean his wish. He wishes for the demon at the beginning of the story to have life. The demon is ‘born’, and they all sing in a dramatic ending.

The Young at Arts version had actors of varying strengths and some were vey good indeed. Where it fell down was naturally in the costume department. The play demands elaborate costumes and with the actors all wearing black leotards it was difficult to know who was who.

What made it even more difficult for me was having to contend with FOUR – yes four smart phones being used throughout the whole performance by audience members in my immediate vicinity.

Two were in the same row as me (on opposite sides with one just one person away) and the others were in the row in front. The most annoying was the one immediately in front of me. At least 75% of the time the woman (she had a young child beside her who was actually paying attention to the play) fiddled with her smart phone.

It lit up so brightly I could even read the messages. I was spell bound at how she was able to so expertly with nimble fingers push the buttons on the keyboard that would appear on the flat screen without making a mistake and then send off her message. I own an iPad and even with the much larger screen I still mange to press the wrong letter or engage two!

The woman would wait a few seconds and the person she was messaging would send one back.

Around me were other lights, like candles, swaying as if in a breeze, from the other smartphones causing even more distraction.

Why would persons pay to go into a theatre to watch a play and spend the majority of the time on their smartphones? What is the importance of it? What will they miss if the smartphone is turned off for the whole play that only lasts one hour?

It is an obsession.

A report on the Mashable website said:

“Two out of five said they “would feel anxious, like part of me is missing,” if they couldn’t use their smartphones to stay connected. One in four people in Gen Y say they check their smartphones so much throughout the day they lose count.

“Two-thirds of respondents said they spend just as much or more time socializing with friend online than they do in person. Women seem to prefer online interaction compared to men, but not by much: 38% of men spend more time in-person than online, versus 29% of women.”

A study on CNN reports:

“Smartphone users have developed what they call “checking habits” — repetitive checks of e-mail and other applications such as Facebook. The checks typically lasted less than 30 seconds and were often done within 10 minutes of each other.

“On average, the study subjects checked their phones 34 times a day, not necessarily because they really needed to check them that many times, but because it had become a habit or compulsion.

‘”It’s extremely common, and very hard to avoid,” says Loren Frank, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. “We don’t even consciously realize we’re doing it — it’s an unconscious behavior.”’

All this is fine, I suppose. But to “play” with the darn thing in a theatre?


Ti Jean had problems with his devils and I had problems with my devils – my fellow audience members smart phones!!

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