- “There’s Too Many of Them!”Off-Off-Broadway’s Performance of Geek Culture
In the spring of 2013, Garage Rep at Steppenwolf Garage Theatre presented Buzz22’s production of Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters. In his review for the Chicago Tribune, Chris Jones called the play “clever, funny, moving, lively and delightfully geeky,” and playwright Qui Nguyen “a refreshing, break-the-rules writer—he has a ready embrace of pop culture, high-school speak and High Fidelity cool, and he also has a mission to redeem gaming geeks everywhere.”1 The play was previously produced at The Flea Theatre in New York City, where Eric Grode of the New York Times found the production “impressive,” due to Nguyen’s and director Robert Ross Parker’s ability to temper gore with “depictions of the more conventional wounds of adolescence, the ones that come from loving and not being loved in return.”2
What has become known as “Geek Theatre” has a dual mission that has informed the commercial theatre: to present outsiders—namely, gamers, comic book collectors, cosplayers (costumed role players inspired by fantasy or character imagery), and those who have a fascination with science fiction and fantasy (SF&F)—while also reflecting the “wounds of adolescence.” For example, the framing apparatus for the earliest draft of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark dealt with comic book geeks who imagined Spidey’s adventures, while The Book of Mormon features an over-the-top musical number with Jedi from the Star Wars universe and Hobbits from the pages of Lord of the Rings. While these musicals may speak to the larger trend of appropriating geek culture, Qui Nguyen and his company, Vampire Cowboys (VC), have risen in the ranks of New York independent theatres by actively cultivating not just an audience or subscriber base, but a fandom. In the latest VC production, Geek!, author Crystal [End Page 121] Skillman has crafted an adaptation of Dante’s Inferno, setting the play at a comic book convention where two heroes travel through various levels of the convention center in order to meet an admired comic book artist. This play reaches a high point for Geek Theatre, as it lovingly depicts the fans that have been developed by, and now follow, VC and other indie geek companies building on the VC model in NYC.
In this article, I discuss Geek Theatre and how Geek Theatre constructs its audiences via fan culture. I begin with some considerations regarding how we can define “geek,” and what we might consider to be a “geek aesthetic.” Then, I use the VC production of Geek! as a case study, as it reflects both the approach of the Geek Theatre movement and celebrates the very fandom it has cultivated by representing not just their passions, but the fans themselves onstage. Finally, I suggest that Geek Theatre offers a possible model that commercial theatre might consider for creating new audiences.
“Fan” or “Geek”?
At last year’s Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, actor Wil Wheaton, known for his role as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994), was asked by an audience member if he had any words of advice for her newborn daughter. Wheaton responded:
Being a nerd, or being a geek, which is another word you’ll hear and I sort of use the terms interchangeably, it’s not about what you love, it’s about how you love it. . . . The way you love that, the way you find other people who love it the way you do, is what makes being a nerd awesome. The defining characteristic of us, of the people in this room ... that ties us all together is that we love things. Some of us love Firefly. Some of us love Game of Thrones. . . . Some of us love Star Trek or Star Wars or anime or games or fantasy or science fiction, some of us love completely different things; but we all love those things so much that we travel for thousands of miles. . .so that we can be around people who love the things the way that we love them.3
For Wheaton, a geek...