I’ve been thinking recently a lot about containers.
Even though shipping containers, surprisingly but not surprisingly, are a fairly recent trend in theatre performance. See for yourself in an article from American Theatre, HERE, where they look at Serenbe Playhouse’s production of Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire that was staged inside a recycled shipping container.
So lame jokes and cheekiness aside… what I’m thinking about are the theatrical sub-containers playwrights use to heighten their narratives. With theatre being the uber container, what are the ones that follow suite? How are they telling their stories? In what way are they recycling old narrative traditions and troupes? Is it through a container of comedy, sci-fi, horror, or any other genre? Is it through pop culture? Is it through a historical lens? Is it through a futuristic lens? If you’re Qui Nguyen, Marvel Studios screenwriter and acclaimed playwright of Vietgone, your containers are comic books, sci-fi, fantasy, geek-culture, superheroes, and the 90’s, as well as many others.
I had the immense pleasure of taking on an in depth study of playwright Qui Nguyen and his work this semester, looking primarily into the play She Kills Monsters. A comedic romp into the world of fantasy role-playing games, She Kills Monsters tells the story of Agnes Evans as she leaves her childhood home in Ohio following the death of her teenage sister, Tilly. When Agnes finds Tilly’s Dungeons & Dragons notebook, however, she stumbles into a journey of discovery and action-packed adventure in the imaginary world that was Tilly’s refuge. In this high-octane dramatic comedy laden with homicidal fairies, nasty ogres, and 90s pop culture, acclaimed young playwright Qui Nguyen offers a heart-pounding homage to the geek and warrior within us all. Nguyen uses an for-the-people-aesthetic, pop culture, geek culture, advanced physicality, multimedia, and puppetry as his containers. His stories aren’t small. They are larger than life and with a purpose. It’s not all fun and games for the sake of being gimmicky or geeky chic. His containers are specific and purposeful. Nguyen’s main goal is to redefine superheroes. “As a writer of color, I grew up longing to see superheroes that looked like me,” and now he writes those very superheroes for his audiences.
It makes me want to create a dice that list elements of different containers on each side.
Dice one would be the following: CHARACTER
Dice two would be: RELATIONSHIP
- Birth Parent/Child
And finally, dice three would be: SUB-CONTAINER
- Graphic Novel
- Science Fiction
- Teenage Drama
- War Zone
The containers entertain us, the containers elevate the narrative, and the containers allow the narrative to transcend the mundane. “Not that I don’t like small stories,” says Nguyen, “but you can write a story about domestic relationships and you can also have exploding space ships.” HOW INCREDIBLY IMAGINATIVE AND FREEING IS THAT?
All in all, wouldn’t it be pretty incredible if there were such a thing as a theatrical container store for writers to go to? Maybe that’s the library… probably… As I wrap up my first year of grad school I’m inspired by writers like Nguyen who write damn good stories from an authentic voice with epic containers. I’m challenged to do just the same.