Drama vs. Theatrics

masks-807346_640(S)He causes so much drama… – Anonymous

It’s a common enough saying, usually with negative connotations. As I mentioned in a recent post I’ve never been a big fan of it, mainly because what seems to be “drama” for one person is “life” for another. In my post I make the same error, valuing one kind as “gratuitous” and the other as “plot-driven”. The flaw in that is the good old “who am I to judge?” There’s a lot of terms for people who sit on the outside and make judgements about what the “man in the arena” should be doing – at best they’re coaches, but it goes downhill from there, and I’m pretty sure “personal development blogger” isn’t too far from “armchair quarterback.”

James Carse, in his book on Finite and Infinite Games, thoroughly explores games in which the objective is to keep playing (“infinite game”) as opposed to games where the objective is to “win” and thereby stop playing (“finite games”). While he does use examples like football and politics, it’s all a not-so-thinly disguised metaphor for life in general. While I’m finding the book itself complex and thought-provoking, this chapter especially resonated:

…we shall refer to finite play as theatrical.
Although script and plot do not seem to be written in advance, we are always able to look back at the path followed to victory and say of the winners that they certainly knew how to act and what to say.
Inasmuch as infinite players avoid any outcome whatsoever, keeping the future open, making all scripts useless, we shall refer to infinite play as dramatic.
Dramatically, one chooses to be a mother; theatrically, one takes on the role of mother…

I can’t even begin to take that idea deeper – reading Carse is only possible after I’ve warmed up with some McGonigal – I do find that using that terminology feels a bit more apt. Rather than calling someone dramatic…perhaps what they are is more theatrical? Suddenly the actions and motivations are, if not more forgivable, at least more comprehensible. Drama is the telling of story, of deep motivations and emotions; theatricality, on the other hand, is the act of seeking attention, the desire to impress, to entertain, and (of course) to gain applause.

“Don’t be so dramatic!” vs. “Don’t be so theatrical!” – one dismisses the issue, while the other takes notice of behavior while still leaving room for the issue to be addressed. Or, to take it out of the other – “I don’t want to cause drama!” (so I’m just going to keep quiet) vs. “I don’t want to be theatrical!” (so I’m going to speak calmly and rationally about the things I care about).

Try it out, the next time you see “drama” unfolding. How much of it is theatrics? And how much is just life?

Speaking of theatrical, thanks to my Patrons, I’ve now begun putting the posts on a YouTube Channel!

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