Right now, I’m in the middle of a play. Not in the middle of writing one. I’m IN a play, physically. Who’s it about, who’s the protagonist?
What makes a “protagonist” anyway?
I’m sitting at the outdoor patio tables on the border of where the privately-owned Metreon Mall meets the publicly-funded Yerba Buena Park, in San Francisco, CA.
To my right, a sushi chef and a sushi waiter stand close to each other and chat. They are on a break, making fun of a conversation they overheard two teenage girls having inside the restaurant. They pretend to giggle and squeal, and one of the men, the waiter, says, in a high-pitched whine, “Oh my God, he’s so hot. Justin BEIBER.”
To my left, a middle-aged woman with a practical haircut rests her chin in her hand and sighs deeply. She has kicked off one of her shoes and rests her bare foot up on a chair.
To her left, a man has eaten the meat out of his sandwich, and is finishing the piece of bread. To his left, there’s a pigeon.
In front of us, the park. Behind us, the mall.
Okay, so those are our characters. Now, who’s the protagonist?
Me, the young woman blogging? Hopefully not, because writers are boring.
Most protagonists have drama; the woman with one bare foot and her chin in her hand has some pathos. She has probably had a long day, and there is an aura of “what next” in her position, like she has been in a long fight but can’t go home, like she is going back into battle.
Most protagonists have pluck; the sushi waiter doing the girl’s voice is certainly lively, a person with a lot of energy, making the most of his brief respite from having to be “professional” and polite.
Most protagonists have empathy; the sushi chef is listening and laughing quietly, warmly, as his friend grandstands.
Most protagonists have mystery, so as hero of the tale, would you perhaps pick the guy with the sandwich? Well, maybe; why is he eating lunch food at dinnertime, has he been carrying it all day, or, here as the sun starts to set, is he trying to turn back the clock and pretend the afternoon is still ahead of him?
Is this even a play? This is just a city park on the cusp of a private mall, during an afternoon on the cusp of evening, in a season nice enough for all these people to want to be outside. These are just a collection of people performing certain versions of themselves, for their own satisfaction and for each other. It is not scripted. It is happening in space and time. It is not for profit. It is a live story. It is not “a work” of art, wrought and crafted. It is casual and sudden, the opposite of “a work,” which is, of course… a play.
Right now, I’m in the middle of a play. So what’s it about? It’s about whatever the audience is interested in. The protagonist of any play isn’t the character with the most stage time or the most lines, it’s the character whose outcome the audience is most invested in.
The protagonist is the character whose outcome the audience is most invested in.
Every one of these people is a protagonist, to themselves. But to the pigeon, the protagonist is the bread.