The elevators in the Beverly Hills building where the Lear Center’s world headquarters is located are fitted with little screens provided by the Captivate Nework, where driblets of news are accompanied by dollops of advertising. “Captivate” is a good word for describing what players in the attention economy, from entertainers to educators, want to do with our consciousness, but in this case, it’s equally good to describe the audience’s status; as captives in the elevator car, we can no more avoid the little screen than we can avoid the E chart while imprisoned by the eye doctor’s lens machine.
Now comes a new innovation: the elevator as theatrical space. “Ascent-Descent/Assent-Dissent” is the name of 24 playlets, each less than two minutes long, being performed, live, between the ground and the fourteenth floors of the Starks Building in Louisville, Kentucky, by cast members of the Specific Gravity Ensemble.
It should come as no surprise that a dramatic story, from start to finish, needs no more than two minutes to tell. After all, advertisers have learned to pack entire soap operas into the span of a tv spot. The state-of-the-art on this front can be seen in Home Depot’s new campaign, which uses 30-second to 2-minute ads to introduce you to single mothers and others whose domestic or medical calamities are overcome through the therapy of home improvement. The stars of these melodramas are real people, and their tales are true stories, though their use as quasi-pharmacological inducements — wallpaper is the new Prozac — may justify scare quotes around the “reality” genre to which they belong.
In Hollywood, “elevator pitch” is the shorthand for the need to sell an idea for a new movie or tv show with a “high concept” — a summary that takes no longer than it does to rise to the floor your agent works on. (The Washington equivalent is the slogan or bumper-sticker: if you can’t sell a candidate’s message in a few words, or a 15-second spot, how can you expect voters to pay attention?)
I guess it was inevitable that the elevator pitch has been succeeded by the elevator performance. In this ruthless marketplace, who wants to spend a hundred minutes on a storyteller’s journey, when you can get the gist of it on the way to the dentist?