The development of theatre in America exhibit some of the unhealthier aspects of the false self. First, we see the development of the cult of celebrity. A celebrity is a person who has widespread renown or fame. A cult as obsessive devotion or veneration for a person, principle, or ideal especially when regarded as a fad. “The star system had its roots in eighteenth-century England, and with the appearance of David Garrick in the 1740s it was set on an uninterrupted course.”[i] This expression of a cult involves a vicarious experience stemming from the sensation energy center and the false-self need for esteem and affection.
The adoring fans have a weak sense of identity typical of those inhabiting the P-B story, and they seek meaning in their lives by projecting onto a person who in their eyes seems to live the life they think they would like to live. That life appears to be exciting and glamorous with an adoring public which they feel would fill the void in their lives, and so they create the illusion that their need is being met by adoration of the object in question. Since so many others also appear devoted to the same celebrity, their choice of an object of veneration is corroborated. They then join the family of worshippers and express the ego state of a child as opposed to that of a self-reliant adult and as a result exhibit the Peter Pan syndrome. Normal personality growth is thwarted to say nothing of the possibility of a paradigm shift into the present moment.
The celebrity, the object of veneration, in the meantime is living a different sort of reality, far different than that which the fans imagine. They have entered into a highly competitive profession, a dog-eat-dog world which is anything but glamorous and romantic. “Then they discover that the top rung of the professional ladder is coated with grease and that their grasp is precarious. The profession continues to breed alcoholics, drug addicts, and neurotics in profusion. Most of them rose to the top of their profession both because and in spite of the wasteful and destructive free-enterprise system of American theater.”[ii] Nevertheless, the art of the theatre continues to create beauty and truth that nurtures an audience mature enough to see through the illusion into the heart of a truly profound creative process.
In one sense, P-B and P-A coexist in the theatre as they do in all of the arts. Regardless of the illusion and suffering that exist in the world of the theatre, as patrons, we can all benefit by having a unique and uplifting experience of the present moment if we keep our focus on where we are and who we are.
Folly: Acting and the Cult of Celebrity
[i] Henderson, Mary C. Theater in America. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1986,
Find a much more in-depth discussion in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.