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Dan Hoyle: Escaping 'the selfie paradigm'

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One-man show 'Each and Every Thing' examines digital lives


COURTESY: PATRICK WEISHAMPEL/BLANKEYE.TV - Award-winning actor/playwright Dan Hoyle makes his return to Portland Center Stage in his one-man show Each and Every Thing, which stages at the Gerding Theaters Ellyn Bye Studio through March 27. Tickets may be hard to come by (http://www.trypcs.org). Hoyle put on his journalistic theater at PCS in 2011 with The Real Americans. Journalistic theater was his portal to realize how experience is now done through a digital prism.Dan’s Hoyle’s one-man show “Each and Every Thing” is not expressly about our current situation — everyone plugging his or her own personal tracking device into the Internet 24/7 — but about what he calls “open time.”

“It’s about how we experience the world in the digital age, and it’s all based on research and experiences I’ve had,” Hoyle told the Tribune between rehearsals recently. He calls what he does journalistic theater, interviewing real people and turning their stories into live drama.

In “Each and Every Thing,” through March 27 at Gerding Theater (www.pcs.org), he plays a variety of characters, to comic effect, showing different ways people use their devices to avoid being in the here and now. “Open time” is the opposite, where we put aside distraction and stay in the moment, listening to each other and observing the unmediated world.

“I try to do 15 minutes of ‘open time’ every day: to be open to something spontaneous happening,” he says.

Hoyle suggests sitting in public and observing people, undistracted by screens.

“Just think, ‘What are we looking at, what’s going on? How is this person walking?’ Imagine people’s stories, and get outside the selfie paradigm, which has become the dominant paradigm,” he adds.

Leaning on studies that informed books such as “The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr, Hoyle believes that multitasking is a myth. The executive and non-executive sides of the brain can’t keep switching back and forth (as when reading a link-laden prose) without draining our mental energy. “The thing that tires out our brain is constantly switching,” he says.

“Open time” sounds like a great thing for an actor to do — professional people-watching — but what about the rest of us? Someone on a cigarette break from work, or sitting in traffic? What’s in it for them?

“It could be just daydreaming,” he offers.

As someone who grew up in San Francisco, Hoyle has seen the rise of jittery tech workers who are rewarded for being always on, chasing the next big thing. He also believes that most tech executives disapprove of digital immersion for their kids, that they mandate screen time for them and send them to Montessori-type schools.

A key character in “Each and Every Thing” is a young Indian man who seems to have the antidote to the head rush of infotainment.

“My friend Pratim is kind of the star of the show,” he says of one of the many characters he plays which are based on real people. Pratim introduced him to a type of cafe in Calcutta, India.

“Everyone sits around, it’s like an analog chat room — it’s the original ‘open time.’ There could be four, 10, 12 people around a coffee table, and they’re investigating some idea together,” he says. “There are stretches where people don’t talk, they stare at the fans, smoke a cigarette. Everyone is thinking about something.”

He says such places have resulted from Calcutta being at the heart of the British empire. “East and West would meet and have this mind meld, and they’ve had 200 years of practice,” he says.

Like a lot of vacation insights, Hoyle’s epiphany, or cleansing of the doors of perception, fell by the wayside after he returned from his trip to India.

He says: “The joke is I went to India, came back perceiving each and every thing perfectly for two weeks, then suddenly it was ‘Let me tweet that, let me text that …’ ”

Knowing no one is likely to abandon his or her connected devices completely, he tries to show an alternative to the black hole of the Internet and the time suck of social media.

He suggests limited, intentional forays onto social media, to post about a cool experience or to check in with a couple of people.

“As opposed to every time there’s downtime and you skip to some bombardment of jealousy and hate-posting and fake-liking,” he says. “Then you’re in the middle in this pit of shame, and think ‘Why did I do that for 15 minutes?’”

Hoyle has been doing journalistic theater for 12 years. This piece began as a look at newspapers. He talks to people, gains their trust and tries to turn their stories, in an honorable way, into something that will emotionally affect audiences in a theater. (With a double major in performance studies and history, he did it right out of college when he researched the local corner boy drug dealers in Chicago.)

He got a grant from the Pew Theater Initiative in Philadelphia, and said he wanted to go to India where newspapers are booming. They said to try America, which he did — a couple of days at Washington Post, some time at a small Louisiana newspaper whose name he has already forgotten. It didn’t lead to a show, but it did inform “Each and Every Thing.”

He says: “It was my portal into realizing how every aspect of experience is now filtered through a digital prism, which is a bigger, more interesting idea (than the fate of newspapers).” The 2 1/2-minute R&B love song to newspapers in this show is a vestige of that earlier research.

He’s a funny guy, trying to entertain more than preach. Other actor/writers he admires are Dael Orlandersmith (also at Portland Center Stage right now), Danny Hoch, Nilaja Sun, playwrights Stephen Adly Guirgis and Annie Bakerm, Mike White (HBO’s “Enlightened”) and the Coen Brothers. His heroes include Richard Pryor, Ricky Gervais and Sasha Baron Cohen.

There's a few names to Google while you line up outside the theater.

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