“What's interesting to me is pulling apart how technology and this 21st century world is altering the way that, particularly queer youth, come to have an understanding of themselves,” says playwright Garrett David Kim.
Indeed, as technology accelerates the maturation of our youth, it impacts paths to self-discovery and identity formation. As part of the 2020 Pride Plays festival, Kim and actor-playwright Rodney Hicks (Come From Away) explore what it means to come of age as a queer youngster in today’s society in their plays-in development: Are You There Truman? and Just Press Save, respectively.
Kim’s Are You There Truman? explores a young man’s connection to the digital world—specifically porn, his infatuation with a certain porn star, and how these films affect the formation of his sexual identity. “What does it mean that we can watch adult films any time of day, any time you want?” Kim asks.
The plot of Hicks’ Just Press Save may not deal directly with digital tech, but as his play follows diverse ensemble of high-schoolers of the class of 2022 in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, their interaction with, judgment of, and relationship to the digital world that inherently impacts their behavior as youth adapting to and coping with the hurtles of life. “I’m in a perfect place in my life to have written a play about queer youth, and a play where all minorities occupy one place,” says Hicks.
A mix of perspectives has impacted a lot of Hicks’ work, who writes mostly about social issues. In Just Press Save, there are characters with a wide variety of backgrounds on the spectra of ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, and gender. Hicks describes his play as a mix of Dawson's Creek, My So-Called Life, and Freaks and Geeks—because that’s what he grew up on—with some inspiration from his own adolescence. Thanks to his high school theatre department, where he wrote and starred in his own work his senior year, he found his place.
“[Drama] helped me get out of being bullied, I cast people who were not in the department” as a way to infuse new blood in the room and also protect himself in multiple social circles, says Hicks. Similarly, in Just Press Save, “I wanted to mix it all in coming from different perspectives.”
Kim’s play is also deeply personal. “I was definitely hesitant about [submitting] a very personal piece that doesn't really hold back talking about uncomfortable and messy issues in our community,” says Kim. Growing up in white, conservative Midwestern America, Kim didn’t have people of color or the LGBTQ+ community to turn to when it came to forming his sexual identity, so he found it where most kids these days do: the internet.
Kim processes those experiences through the comedy: “I wanted an exploration of the intersection of identity, race, desire, sexuality, and family to be one that also makes us laugh at how ludicrous all of these rules and systems are.”
While these themes are certainly real in our world today—the landscape of Are You There Truman? is a bit more futuristic. “A lot of it takes place in a fantasy internet world, with porn archetypes appearing and a sex ed video that plays throughout,” the playwright explains. With his director Gaven Trinidad, the pair feel the digital presentation of this year’s Pride Plays is actually advantageous to material about the internet, adding a meta flair to the direction that would not be present in a live theatre staging.
In Hicks' Just Press Save, his play examines differing relationships to digital tech within this group of teens. Hick and director Michael Greif integrate projection for some characters’ profile pictures while other characters denounce using social media, noting that life is hard enough without the pressures of an online persona.
A sense of 'newness' is always attached to technology and the ever-changing digital landscape—but that's not the only thing that feels fresh about both of these works. Both authors feel proud about the tonal shift in new queer works their plays represent. “We're exiting the age of irony,” says Kim. “It feels weird to say but I don't think we can continue to put snark on everything we're saying anymore.”
As Hicks says, “As corny as it sounds, that people can leave going, ‘We can make this a better world’—that is my grand hope” for this generation and beyond.