By Wes Grantom, guest director of The Lifespan of a Fact
Throughout this process, the cast and I have been playing a game called “Two Truths and a Lie.” It’s an icebreaker exercise in which a person shares two facts about themselves that are true and one that is false. The other players have to decipher the truths from the lie. This activity has helped us get to know each other as we rehearse, but more than that, it has tested our ability to parse fact from fiction—a skill that seems increasingly important in our current landscape of deep-fake videos, disinformation campaigns and alternative facts. With this constant barrage of contradictory information, one starts to wonder if we are creating a world where the truth is no longer knowable or even important.
In the age of the internet, we can obtain essentially any information we seek. Have a question? Google it. Want to know what a person looks like? Facebook them. Need to know how to build something? YouTube it. Information is literally at our fingertips and yet it is harder than ever to know what is actually real.
Take this play for example. The central characters are an author named John D’Agata and a factchecker named Jim Fingal. John D’Agata is a real-life author who wrote a real-life essay that was fact-checked by a real-life fact-checker named Jim Fingal. This would lead one to believe this play is a true story. If you look closer, however, you’ll find the label “true story” is much more complicated. This is a play adapted by three playwrights, from a book by two authors, based on an essay by one author who freely admits he “nudged” the facts. In an interview in Electric Lit, John D’Agata says that while writing the book Lifespan of a Fact, he and his coauthor “recreated” some aspects of the story and “completely fabricated” others. And that was before three playwrights got a hold of it. This play is the literary equivalent of a tiny Russian doll nesting within different versions of the “truth.” Is one version more true than another? Is one more factual? Perhaps these writers are simply taking the same creative liberties each of us allow ourselves to take on a daily basis. I offer your latest Instagram story as evidence.
As a society, we grant ourselves license to curate facts to shape the stories we present to the world. Our news stories, art, literature, movies, and social media all present a different version of the truth, supported by varying degrees of fact. Our culture seems to have an unspoken code for blurring the line between fact and fiction, but at what point do we lose the ability to decipher between the two? Some of the characters in this play might argue that this is an instance when asking the question is more important than knowing the answer.
Two truths and a lie.
Give it a shot. Turn to the person next to you and see if they can tell which is which.