Live theatre is one of the very visible victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, with arts groups around the world grappling with how to adapt and survive. In the meantime, nature abhors a vacuum, and a new type of performer has sprung up to provide a live, often interactive, theatre experience in unlikely locations.
These People Reacting Against Tyranny (PRATs) have taken the place of flash mobs, popping up unexpectedly in public places to entertain others. A common theme of their shows is masks, specifically stipulations that they be worn in certain environments (stores, hospitals, hairdressers’ shops) in order for members of the public to gain admittance. PRATs are very much against the mandatory wearing of masks, and not at all shy about letting anyone within earshot know this. They also know that with most people carrying around smartphones, their performances are likely to be captured for posterity, which has led to any number of PRATs turning up on YouTube.
The setting varies, but PRATs prefer crowded locations: Costco is a favoured venue. This makes sense, because there is little point in a performance that no one sees. If a PRAT lets loose with no other customers and only a fixed security camera to capture a grainy recording, does it actually happen?
Props and costumes tend to be minimal, although one PRAT chose a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “RUNNING THE WORLD SINCE 1776” and a map of the United States, just to get the point across (extra marks for the shirt being MAGA red). Another PRAT wielded a chainsaw and attempted to bisect a mask; alas for him, the seemingly flimsy item proved unexpectedly resilient, darting away from the blade like a defiant butterfly.
What these PRATs lack in stagecraft they more than make up for in preparation and intensity. Many of their performances are clearly well-rehearsed; one gets the feeling that they have been honing their anti-mask polemics for some time, practicing them in front of the bathroom mirror, the cat, family members, and anyone else who will listen, so that come performance time they are word perfect.
They obviously believe deeply in their script, selling it for all they’re worth, but many of them betray their lack of theatrical training by failing to realize that less can often be more, resulting in performances that often more closely resemble someone having a seizure than a thought-provoking argument about why having to wear a face mask is one step away from Communism. If I may offer one piece of advice, it would be this: if bystanders are searching for the nearest AED rather than listening to you, you have probably overdone it.
Speaking of bystanders, PRATs are happy to perform for anyone, at any time, although store employees seem to be their preferred audience. Other customers are free to leave whenever they want, but employees are the ultimate captive audience, and have to stay to the bitter end. As a bonus, they are usually constrained from offering any critique of the spittle-flecked monologue on offer, although I would pay good money to read an honest review in the Costco Connector: “With its tired, lazy references to ‘freedom’, ‘rights’, ‘coronavirus hoax’, and ‘stupid rules’, this morning’s performance brought nothing new to the table,” writes Sales Associate Trudi L. “Over the top acting also detracted from the experience, and while the pacing was good, plot and characterization were both sketchy. Overall, a one-dimensional show, featuring a player who is clearly Not Ready for Prime Time.”
So if you’re inclined to try to do your bit for live theatre by indulging in one of these performances, you might want to give it a few more out of town tryouts before going in search of an audience. Or you could spare everyone the experience by remembering one simple piece of advice: don’t be a PRAT.