Notice lately the constant and overabundant use of the word 'awkward,' or the phrases, 'not to be awkward...' or 'that's so awkward.' Or even the high-pitched, two-toned "aw-kward"? Think about it. Do you go through even a day without someone announcing that a situation or scenario was awkward? (Either in the retelling of an anecdote from their lives or in analysing something that just happened on the job?) And awkward scenarios seem to run the gamut including everything from wearing different colored socks on accident to running into your ex at a sex party. "Awkward" even seems to be the bell weather that indicates that a story is worth telling now. Personally, I always get a bit itchy when a word is overused and, thus, loses its meaning. But in the case of "awkward," there's another problem entirely:
Awkwardness isn't bad. And I think I can prove that you all agree with me.
Let's start at the macro level: Life. Is. Awkward. Nearly everything we do that isn't scripted or somehow manipulated to be choreographed into some kind of automated dance is, or has the potential to be: awkward.
Let's step back further. The definitions (according to Merriam Webster) of the word awkward are these:
difficult to use or handle
Name one improvised situation between two human beings, where the process of interaction is not laid out in black and white, that is graceful, skillful or easy to handle? Every unexpected moment of our lives requires multiple levels of skills to 1) assess the situation, 2) figure out what is needed to resolve/respond to it, and 3) how to maneuver away from it and then process it afterwards. So, yes, I suppose going through a work day with mismatched socks may be awkward, as would be running into an ex at a sex party.
Key thing about both these situations is that the subject is left vulnerable. Without a script. Without a clear way out.
And we are, in our society, currently fascinated with situations that don't have a clear way out. But in addition to being fascinated, we are repelled from these situations almost instinctively. (As in, "Awk-ward" she sings as she clears out of the room quickly.) We both want to natter on and on about the awkward situations we witness, while also avoiding any possible awkward situations ourselves.
What. Is going. On?
I think awkwardity (yes, this is what I'm going to call this) is the new theatre. It's the theatre of the new millenium. In a world that is infested with self-check out counters, ATM dispensaries, automated phone operators, grocery delivery, automatic deposits, eight-hour days in front of a computer screen, EZ Pass, GPS, video games, and more and more new ways to never come into contact with another human being...in this world, where does one go for real, authentic entertainment?
To the awkward moment.
The moment when there is a chance that someone may, actually, feel something off-script in front of at least one other person.
These sorts of REAL moments are what homosapiens have been going to the Theatre (capital T, god-damnit, "r.e.") for millenia. To witness these real moments. But in those days, human contact was ubiquitous and negotiated, so they had to tell big stories about GODS and KINGS and KINGS fucking up with the GODS and getting into...yes...awkward situations.
Is it no wonder that the most popular play being produced around the US this year is one about three couples getting together for dinner and talking politics and religion? (Thanks to my lovely and well cultured girlfriend for knowing and telling me this fun fact.) Do you see where I'm going? A dinner conversation now has the rivetting power that once was reserved only for Zeus and Oedipus.
And now, we don't even have to go to a theatre to enjoy our own moments of theatre. Because they happen every day around our cubicles and water coolers and elevators. "Oh...I was trying to get on the elevator while he was trying to get off and we both went in the same direction and then the door started closing and everyone was like, "awkward.""
Personally, I love awkwardity. I write my shows, mostly, as excuses to put my audiences in awkward positions and then watch them twitch. And you know what? They love it. They get scared at first and then they laugh and laugh. 'Cause I'm not afraid of awkwardity. I run towards it. I create it, if I can. Because I am, always have been, and always will be of the Theatre.