Well, we've done it - we've managed to survive the first hundred days of our nation's 45th president's first term. It's been scary, to be sure, for immigrants, LGBT folks, scientists, and on and on - but here we are, still standing. If you disagree with this administration's policies, there's a vital and growing resistance to point to with pride, proof of our still-vital democracy. If you're okay with this administration's policies, you can point to the fact that, well, we haven't all died in a nuclear holocaust yet. However, as we pass the hundred day marker, there is one sad, inescapable truth that must be faced.
Namely, that a whole bunch of the plays I've written are now out of date.
(I'm sure this was uppermost in your mind as well.)
Writers may be constantly chasing the dream of creating something timeless, but we are still beholden to the opinions, assumptions, and prejudices of our own time. There's no way around it - to completely untether our writings from our own time would be like trying to write them in a room without a temperature. We usually don't even notice it - until a disruptive event comes along and upends everything we thought we knew, and renders what came before it instantly dated.
(Warning - whole lot of spoilers ahead. Do spoilers count for unpublished work? Well, I'm warning you anyway.)
As an obvious example - I spent much of last year writing an election-themed one-act entitled Blanketing Merillon Avenue. Set in the Long Island Congressional district where I used to live, it involves a fictitious Republican campaign for the seat, and the tensions that arise between the candidate and his field operative. The play ends just before the vote comes in on Election Night, so it's not clear which party wins the seat. (Thought I was being clever there.) However, the operative is the sort of person who holds beliefs and commits acts in the name of his cause which are, shall we say, deplorable, and the falling out between him and his candidate is rooted in the notion that this mindset is self-defeating, permanently keeping the people holding it on the outside looking in, unable to exercise any real power no matter how much noise they make.
I'm no Nostradamus, apparently.
So this one-act will have to be substantially re-worked to reflect the current political reality if I want to see it produced. And I'm no longer certain I do - it might simply remain an exercise, gathering dust in my filing cabinet, an artifact of a political reality that might have been.
Plays I've already had produced are affected too, though in less obvious ways. My Fringe play Dragon's Breath was about a troubled young woman who turned her favorite YA paranormal romance novels into the bible of an evil cult. It was a satire about religious extremism, and so I used the most ridiculous book I could think of to serve as this bible for comedic effect. (Sexy teenage dragons are ridiculous, right?) But this basic decision meant that the teenage girl had to be the instrument of fanaticism and repression - not because I have anything against teenage girls, but because that's the natural consequence of the decision. Well, real life has proven the exact opposite. The resistance against this administration's most repressive impulses and kleptocratic tendencies is being led by Teen Vogue, for heaven's sakes. This is a terrific development for the future of the country, of course - but for the sake of future productions of my play, not so much.
You'll note that in this case, the sea-change which has caused my work to become dated happens to be a good thing. That's true of another play of mine as well, Necrotopia. It's about a community of zombie cosplayers in Brooklyn (which should surprise nobody who's ever been to Brooklyn), and spoofs all manner of horror tropes. The trope I'm concerned with here is my take on the inevitable evil government conspiracy. In Necrotopia, the group I dub the "Piper Initiative" infiltrates resistance movements and subcultures to ensure they remain nothing more than fads, becoming passe and dying off before ever having an affect on society. It was born out of my frustration with things like the Gulf War opposition, which seemed to simply be steam valves to vent frustration rather than channel it. Stop trying to define yourself by the resistance subculture you belong to, I was trying to say, and concentrate on what you're trying to do instead.
Well, lo and behold. If you've watched or participated in any of the resistance marches this year, you'll have noticed that the usual subcultures are nowhere to be seen. (Your friends on Fox News and the like may see it differently, but they see dirty hippies everywhere and they're not the most reliable of narrators.) No, these are normal people shocked into action. And if you've followed things like the spike in political candidates and donations at the local level, or the town halls against the proposed AHCA, you've noticed that this resistance activity is translating into direct concrete action for once. So the lesson of my play has been learned. Trouble is, it's been learned without the play having been produced.
Obviously, the answer to my dilemma here (for which I'm sure the world's smallest violin is playing right now) is to concentrate instead on new work, dealing with our new reality. But plays take months to prepare and draft, not even counting the time spent shopping them around and producing them if you're lucky. And there simply hasn't been the time to do that yet.
I mean, dear God, it's only been a hundred days.
Posted on May 1, 2017
by Michael C. O'Day