Fingerphone: A Telephonic Performance

Picture this:



Two people sit on an empty stage in ordinary chairs. They appear to be waiting. The house lights remain up.

ABLE: (Puts fingerphone to her ear) Ring ring. (Pause) Ring ring. (Pause) Ring Ring.

Finally, ABLE points to someone in the first row of the audience, CECILIA, until they “answer.”

ABLE: Ring ring.

What follows is largely improvised, but follows a general form of a real phone call, never breaking character, yet occasionally breaking the fourth wall of acknowledging that a play is going on. If anyone isn’t willing to play along, the call is simply a wrong number.


ABLE: Oh hey, I thought you might not be home. It rang like ten times.

CECILIA: Well, I didn’t hear you calling at first.

ABLE: Yeah, that happens. What are you up to?

CECILIA: Uh, I’m at a performance.

ABLE: Oh shit, I hope I’m not interrupting! Do you need me to call back?

If CECILIA claims they are elsewhere, ABLE mentions that she‘s at the theater in the middle of a performance.

CECILIA: No, I think it is probably okay.

ABLE: Seriously, I don’t want to be responsible for you being one of those assholes that answers their phones in the theater, and whispers loudly (whispering loudly) “I can’t talk right now! I’m at the theater!”

During this, BOB picks up his fingerphone quietly and listens. Then he holds it away from his head and says during a quiet moment…

BOB: Recording.

ABLE: Well, I was just calling because I wanted to check up on you.

CECILIA: Thank you.

ABLE: I was worried you might not have gotten home okay.

CECILIA: Yes, I got home alright.

ABLE: You drank quite a bit.

CECILIA: I know. But I was fine.

ABLE: (Insistent) No, I mean you drank a lot. A lot. You were a madman.

CECILIA: (Hesitant) You were buying me drinks, I couldn’t help it.

ABLE: I had to talk to the owner about the busted chairs. He let me write a check to cover the damages. I don’t really have the money, so I’m hoping you can pay me back before it clears. Is that gonna work for you?

CECILIA: Uh, sure?

ABLE: (Looking right at the audience member) Mind if I come over right now and get some money from you?

This is just one of many many ways the conversation can go. The tension and humor comes from the audience member gamely playing along, but then getting themselves into dramatic situations they are unprepared for.

BOB listens to his fingerphone for a few moments and then sets it aside. He picks up another fingerphone and after a moment says…

BOB: Ring ring. (pause) Ring ring.fingerphone jonathan

ABLE: Hey, don’t worry about last night. Really. I had a lot of fun and clearly you did too. Nobody got hurt except for the pool player and he deserved it. That’s all that matters. Hey, did you get your tickets yet?

CECILIA: (Caught off guard) Yeah, I got them.

BOB: Ring ring.

ABLE: I heard it’s supposed to be hella hot there at this time of year. And the sanding blowing around. What airport are you arriving at?

CECILIA: Kabul. (Or wherever)

BOB: Ring ring.

Here BOB makes eye contact with and points at one of the audience members, OFFICER DAMON, until they “answer.” Here we have two almost simultaneous conversations. ABLE and BOB have a little control over timing, and can leave some room for bits of each other’s conversation.


BOB: Sir?

OFFICER DAMON: (Hesitant) Yes?

ABLE: Is it a vacation or for your work?

CECILIA: It’s just a vacation.

BOB: Sir, I think there’s something you should hear. I had a standard PR/TT order and I got a blue flag. So I thought it was best if I monitored.


BOB: I wouldn’t have bothered you, sir, but I got a blue flag. Hold on, I’ll patch. Tape is rolling, but this is a live feed.

BOB picks up his first fingerphone and listens briefly before inverting one and putting them together, all the while listening to the two fingerphones intently.

This is just one of many many possible performances that could result. The few actors on stage might have a loose series of story arcs, possible interactions, and complexities that they could spin into action. The desired result is to create a chain of audience-performers calling and talking to each other, while weaving an impossibly tangled web of interesting narrative.

ABLE: Oh sure, whatever. Work, play, it all kinds of blends together in your business, I guess. I’m stoked Felice is going with you. When are you coming back?

CECILIA: Next week, I think.

ABLE: Next week? Are you kidding? Will they completely wrap things up in a week?

CECILIA: (Hesitant) They are doing it more quickly than normal?

BOB sets the listening fingerphone aside and puts the second fingerphone to his ear.

BOB: Have you heard enough, sir? Do you have any special instructions?

OFFICER DAMON: Uh, just carry on with your duties?

BOB: Sir, I’m required to notify you, but I also have to call the Chief. Can I call you back?

OFFICER DAMON: Yes, you do that.

ABLE: Can you pick me up something when you’re there?

CECILIA: Sure, what?

ABLE: I don’t know, something good. I’m collecting stuff you bring back, ever since you went to Istanbul. What do you think would be good?

CECILIA: Maybe a shawl?

BOB makes another call on his second fingerphone.

BOB: Ring ring. (pause) Ring ring.

ABLE: Cool, thanks. Do you ever hear from Bob?

CECILIA: (Caught off guard) Who’s Bob?

ABLE: (Laughing) I know, right? Like where the fuck has he been?

CECILIA: No, I haven’t heard from him in a while.

ABLE: He kind of dropped off the map in the last few. I got a call from some guy a while ago who was (air quotes) “checking his references.” I was pretty sure, by the end, he was some sketchy government agent.

CECILIA: What did you tell him?

BOB: Ring Ring.

BOB points at the third audience member, CHIEF ELLIS.


ABLE: I don’t know. I told him, “Okay I guess.” He asked dumb shit, seriously. Did I remember Bob’s Mexico trip? Do I remember who his friends were in college? Did I ever see him with lots of cash?

CECILIA: What did you say?

ABLE: (Laughing) What do you think? Bob fucking dealt weed in college. Which given how much you partook, you might not fully remember. Of course I said, “No, he was always broke.” What was I supposed to say?

CECILIA: Sounds like you did the right thing?

BOB: Chief? I got a blue flag so I’m calling to let you know. I already called my C.O. I had a IRTPA-authorized PR and TT and I got a blue flag. What are your instructions, sir?

CHIEF ELLIS: Um, keep listening and recording?

BOB: Chief? As you know, PR2 requires you to talk to my C.O.


BOB: I notified him first, as per protocol. Would you like to call him or shall I have him call you?

CHIEF ELLIS: Maybe he calls me?

BOB: I’ll have him call you back, Chief. That way all of our bases our covered.


BOB hangs up.

ABLE: Hey, I gotta run and make a call. Can you do me a favor?

CECILIA: Hey, sure.

ABLE: Can you call up Felice? I don’t have her number since I lost my other phone. And I haven’t talked to her in two weeks and it feels shitty to call her up and ask something from her. See if she’s done with my camera, and if so maybe I can get it back before you guys go to Kabul? It’s a big favor, can you call her?

CECILIA: Yeah, I guess?

ABLE points to another audience member, FELICE.

ABLE: Can you call her now before she’s busy packing? I don’t want her to be pissed at you, so if she has any questions, you can have her call me.

CECILIA: Okay, I’ll call.

BOB: Ring ring.

Bob points at OFFICER DAMON.

BOB: Ring ring.


At this point, CECILIA should be calling FELICE. If not, ABLE calls CECILIA back to ask if she called her.

BOB: Sir? I called the Chief and notified him of my blue flag. As you advised, I continued listening and recording.

OFFICER DAMON: Okay? Good work.

ABLE: Ring ring. (pause) Ring ring.

BOB: I need the Chief to give you explicit further authorization, can you talk to him, and then call me right back?


ABLE points at another audience member, GEORGIA.

ABLE: Ring ring.


BOB points to the Chief, CHIEF ELLIS.

BOB: Can you call him right now?

OFFICER DAMON: Okay, I’ll call him.

BOB: Thank you, sir.

BOB hangs up, and listens again to his first fingerphone.

ABLE: Hi, Honey. When are you coming home tonight?

GEORGIA: Not until late.

By this time, OFFICER DAMON should be calling the Chief, CHIEF ELLIS.

ABLE: (looking directly at GEORGIA) If you come home early, I can make it worth your while. (subtle eyebrow raise)

Depending on the length of CECILIA’s call, FELICE may be calling ABLE. If so…

ABLE: Oh, I have another call coming in, can you hold a second?

GEORGIA: Uh, sure?

ABLE puts down the fingerphone for an instant and immediately picks it back up.

ABLE: Hello?

FELICE: Hi, this is Felice.

ABLE: Oh hey, Felice. I’m glad you called. I have Georgia on the other line, can you hold a minute? Of can I call you back?

FELICE: I’ll hold.

ABLE: Cool, thanks.

ABLE puts down the fingerphone for an instant and immediately picks it back up.

ABLE: (looking at GEORGIA) Hey, you still there?

GEORGIA: I’m still here.

ABLE: Can you pick up dinner?


ABLE: What kind of food are you thinking?

GEORGIA: Maybe pick something up from the store?

By now, OFFICER DAMON might be done with their call to the Chief, CHIEF ELLIS, and calling BOB back.

ABLE: I don’t want to make anything. Can you get something to go, take out?

GEORGIA: Sure, like what?

ABLE: Anything, what do you want?

GEORGIA: Mexican?

Bob answers on his second fingerphone.

BOB: Hello, sir?

OFFICER DAMON: I called the Chief and he gives authorization.

BOB: Are you sure this is authorized, sir? I called you because I got the flag, but frankly, sir, I’m not sure why we are monitoring this line. I mean I didn’t tell the Chief, sir, but I want to make sure we’re doing the right thing.

OFFICER DAMON: (Unsure) I’m pretty sure.

ABLE: No, I just had Mexican food. Can you get Thai or Vietnamese Noodles?


ABLE: No! BBQ ribs! Ohmigod, now I’m having a craving for BBQ sauce.


BOB: I just need some guidance, sir.

Here, BOB is putting audience member OFFICER DAMON in a tight spot, introducing doubts into the universe of the performance, and then asking him or her to positively assert an order for BOB to spy. This could easily go either way.

OFFICER DAMON: You know what? Stop monitoring this line.

BOB: Sir? The Chief said to keep listening and recording.

OFFICER DAMON: I’m telling you to stop.

ABLE: But they take forever. Can you call ahead?

ABLE points at another audience member, HADEN, the BBQ rib chef.


BOB: Sir? With all respect and to be perfectly candid, I want to make sure my ass is covered.

OFFICER DAMON: I give you authorization.

ABLE: (pointing at HADEN) Can you call them now and head home? I’m starving. Pork ribs.

GEORGIA: Okay, yeah, I’ll call.

ABLE: Oh no, I left Felice on hold. Gotta go.

ABLE puts down the fingerphone for an instant and immediately picks it back up.

ABLE: (Looking at FELICE) Felice, are you still there?

FELICE: Yeah, I’m still here. I waited a long time on hold.

BOB: Sir, can you call the Chief one more time? Just to check. I’d feel better about it.

OFFICER DAMON: I’ll call him again.

Bob hangs up, briefly listens to his first fingerphone, picks up his second fingerphone as if to make a call, changes his mind, and then changes his mind again and makes the call.

ABLE: I’m so sorry, I was talking to Georgia and kinda forgot about you. I’m really sorry.

FELICE: It’s okay.

BOB: Ring ring. (Pause) Ring ring.

A third performer IRMA comes on stage with a third chair. She arranges herself primly and then puts her fingerphone to her ear…

IRMA: Ring ring. (Pause) Ring ring.

ABLE: Ohmigod, I’m getting delirious, it feels like I’ve spent all day on the phone. Thanks for calling. Did you get a call from Cecilia? I’m excited you’re going to Kabul. Have you ever been there?

FELICE: No, this is my first time.

IRMA: Ring ring. (Pause) Ring ring.

ABLE: What are you doing there while Cecilia does whatever she does?

FELICE: I’m not sure. Shop? See the sights?

And so on and so forth, with increasing complexity and interconnection.

Writing this started as a total lark and consumed my afternoon. Thanks to Sean and Lisa for playing fingerphone with me and inspiring today’s playful post.

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