Dramatic License

A weblog of thoughts, inspirations, experiences of, in and about live theatre, film, television, literature and other media.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Rumination - Six Degrees of Me

When my oldest daughter entered high school, she requested permission to get a MySpace page. I agreed, on the condition that she allowed me to be one of her friends. The same held true for Facebook. I wasn’t initially impressed with MySpace. Instead of old high school and college classmates looking me up and asking to be my online friends, I was instead instantly inundated with “friend requests” from every wannabe porn actress on the internet.

Then my Facebook account turned up an old friend from high school. Within a week I had linked up to 100 friends including current and former students, high school and college classmates, colleagues and other associates. I became quickly addicted to the site. I couldn’t wait to see who had accepted my friend request or who was looking for me and asking me to be a friend. I added all kinds of interesting applications and vicariously tracked all my friends’ activities.

I found it fascinating that so many people I knew, but who did not know each other, were attending the same events, either real or virtual, at the same time. I was becoming a hub around whom activity was swirling. Interesting.

I was put in mind of the John Guare play, Six Degrees of Separation, and the parlor game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Both revolve around the concept that everyone in the world is only 6 handshakes away from everyone else in the world by virtue of their own personal connections. Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is a parlor game where players try to link Hollywood actors with the ubiquitous Kevin Bacon by the movies they have been in with each other. The player who can do it in the fewest steps, 6 or less, wins the round.

The University of Virginia’s Department of Computer Science has made this linkage a whole lot easier by virtue of its Oracle of Bacon (www.oracleofbacon.org) which allows users to type in the name of any actor and it will give them the shortest path to Kevin Bacon (or any other actor they choose) simply through mining their movies and TV shows listed in the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com). What a wonderful site this was for me to find a few years back. By virtue of having gone to school with or having taught a few actors, I was able to link myself up to Mr. Bacon.

It is quite amazing the connections we have with one another. I, for instance, was a high school classmate of and acted onstage in drama club productions with a young man who went on to become the lead singer and songwriter for the rock band Warrant, Jani Lane. In college I acted onstage with and directed a one-act play featuring future Tony-award nominee Alice Ripley. Jeff Richmond, husband of Saturday Night Live writer and actress Tina Fey, was the musical director for a production Alice and I performed in. Another college classmate, Michelle Duffy, recently made a direct-to-video movie with Emily Osment from Hannah Montana. Yet another college classmate, Jeff Hochendoner, played Moose Mason in a made-for-TV ”Archie” movie.

One of my former high school drama club students I had directed for four years and then hired to act in my improvisational murder mystery company wrangled her way into a Kevin Smith movie in a most interesting way that got me vicariously recognized as well. Enamored of Smith’s films, Lesley sent him a letter expressing her interest in getting together to have coffee with him to discuss film, she even sent him a $5 bill to show her sincerity. Smith got back with her, used her $5 bill to buy them coffee and she presented him with her resume. Of course, I was the only director she had ever had and she listed my name repeatedly on her resume. Lesley reported to me that Kevin commented by saying, “Who is this J. R. Simons guy? Is he like the King of Cleveland or something?” He then offered a featured extra role in Dogma. She can be seen as the woman disembarking the plane in the film’s opening scene. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon comment on her infidelities in that scene.

Through all of these very simple connections, I am less than six handshakes away from just about everybody in Hollywood, on Broadway and in the music industry. But it is not just through Hollywood movies, Broadway shows, record labels and television shows that we are connected with the rest of the world. Consider who you know from college, a fraternity or sorority, or the old neighborhood at home. Everybody had to be somebody’s student. We are all intimately connected to one another through complex relationships that include family, friends, colleagues, co-workers and teachers.

The Buddhists teach and believe that all living creatures are connected, part of a cosmic whole. Modern theories of quantum mechanics posit similar connections among all of matter, energy, time and space. Even St. Paul understood humanity’s intimate connections when he wrote “If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” (1 Cor. 12:26)

Imagine going into a local bar where you have never been and striking up a conversation with a random person. It is a certainty that you will know someone in common. Now imagine going into a bar in a different city and doing the same. It may take a little longer, but eventually you will know someone in common. Imagine doing this in a bar in a different country. It may take longer still, but it is inevitable that they will know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows you. Now imagine being asked to go to war, to fight an enemy in a foreign land and to kill someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows you or who might even be distantly related to you.