One of the play's promotional images.

One of the play's promotional images.

Hope Helmuth

This Fringe Festival show is examining Millennials, beyond the stereotypes

Brad Ogden, the director of ‘Millennia,’ says you gotta go deeper than selfies.

The Instagram for the play Millennia hits so many notes.

Naturally, there’s a dimly lit shot of a beer flight. That moment when a latte pour formed an exceptionally pretty filigree— that’s there too. Collage of foot/floor shots? ✅ Lobsters sitting on a table with Capri Sun the back? They didn’t have to stunt on the kids like that. But how could they miss the opportunity?

Seeing Instagram trends in all their heavily filtered glory in such sequence does quick work of making the generation seem, well, ridiculous. The squad photos, the brunch shots, the close-up pic of a cocktail with its thyme garnish sloped just so, communicate the fastidious, often clichéd approaches we’re using. The play itself, director Brad Ogden explains, prods at common ideas about Millennials, like that we’re “unfocused, non-committal, resistant to hard work, incapable of empathy, politically disinterested, and self-obsessed.”

But Ogden doesn’t really see us that way. Millennia, which will have three closing nights in the Fringe Festival this weekend at the Da Vinci Art Alliance, appears to explore what we’re not throwing on the ‘gram too. Billy Penn caught up with Ogden on (where else?) GChat. When discussing Millennia and Millennials during our interviews, Ogden took his time with this responses. “It’s hard to talk about a generation of 75 million people with objectivity AND brevity!” he explained in one message.

“In the heart of our collective adolescence was an explosion of advancements (from Apple and others) that catapulted us into this age of non-stop connectivity and content and gratification in a very real way,” he typed. “The other month, I read that the average American one-year-old has more photos of him/herself than the average seventeenth century French king. That will never stop blowing my mind.”

These two interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

#TheMillennialsAreComing

A photo posted by MILLENNIA (@projectmillennia) on

Billy Penn: So Brad, I was intrigued right off the bat from the show’s description.

Could you tell us a little bit more about the play?

Brad Ogden:  Sure thing– and glad to hear you were intrigued!

In many ways, the play is an investigation of the Millennial experience as well as the Millennial stereotype — and it was inspired in part by the many think-pieces that overwhelm the internet on any given day which shove America’s largest generation into the “lazy, entitled, aimless, narcissistic, unfeeling, selfish, etc.” category.

I was interested in assembling a team of, yes, Millennials, but also artists I respect to ask big questions about our generation–what about the general perception of our generation is true, what is false, and what are the areas that aren’t so black and white.

And how do we ask those questions in a piece of theatre?

BP:  Hmmm. Is this a traditional play with acts? What’s the format?

Ogden:  The play is, perhaps, nontraditional in that it doesn’t have two acts or an explicit, linear narrative.

The play does take audiences on a journey–but the journey feels like a collage, or a montage, or, even simpler, nonstop stimulation. Experiencing the piece might feel like receiving information in the digital age: from multiple devices and vantage points.

BP:  Oooooh, as a Millennial, do you feel we’re naturally adept to receiving information that way? Were you ever concerned when structuring the piece, not to make it overwhelming, as multiple apps and the innanetz can sometimes be?

Ogden:  I do feel that we are naturally adept to receive information that way.

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Hope Helmuth

And I think being overwhelmed (by options, conveniences, information, general stimuli) is a reality for millennials, if not every person choosing to engage in the digital age. But it also felt like the best way to explore these ideas–without feeling a pressure to give answers, but to ask questions and curate juxtapositions that provoke discourse.

BP: You mentioned that the style mirrors digital experiences, can you expand more on the set up? Are actors speaking at the same time?

Ogden: On occasion, absolutely. We utilize whatever serves us: text, sound, music, movement, materials — all coming at you fast.
Lots of places to look.
Lots of content to sift through.

BP:  Are you online all the time?

Ogden:  Effectively. That’s where work is, that’s where play is. That being said, I value my right to disconnect.

BP:  When do you feel like disconnecting? And when you’re curating— I’m guessing with the subject matter and the play that you’ve maybe thought about this— what things do you filter out? What do you filter in?

Ogden:  Where to even begin? The Internet is such a staggering, mysterious realm. Some blessings: it allows us to connect and engage with people in any community, near or far, in real time. We can access facts and/or opinions about any thing at any given moment. And we can entertain ourselves.

I should be clear, this is not a play exclusively about the internet.

I think that both the anonymity and bottomless convenience that the internet provides can be dangerous.

BP:  You mentioned that the piece explores the Millennial stereotype. What do you think it misses?

Ogden:  I’m not necessarily saying those things are fact or fiction, because I’m just one Millennial, and our team is just 12 Millennials; what I’m saying is that portrait is incomplete.

What the stereotype misses — what any stereotype misses — is the individual stories, the nuance, the psychology behind behavior, the history behind circumstance.

BP:  I’ve felt that way too. Plus I often find that so many of the characterizations seem steeped in race and class, and it makes me wonder, when the media wrote about the GenXers or the Greatest Generation, were the perceptions so narrow?

I love your IG

What was your thought process for putting it together?

Ogden:  Thanks!! Well it was important to me (slipping on the producer hat for a moment) that the marketing for this piece exist primarily in the digital sphere. It just made sense for the piece. I wanted to build a following around photos that captured some piece of the Millennial experience through the lens of the stereotype. Now that our show is open, it serves as a platform for more production photos and audience engagement. But initially, I wanted to inundate people with well-framed brunch shots and intoxicant paraphernalia–to incite intrigue that they might carry with them to our production.

#TheMillennialsAreComing

A photo posted by MILLENNIA (@projectmillennia) on

To your point about class and race–exactly. It was a goal to diversify the perceived millennial experience by filling our piece with the highly individual stories of the artists who made it.

BP: The thing that I loved about the IG is that it felt like you were going for the stereotype, but it also seemed like you were going for #goals.

Brunch shot with a filter with the squad, that’s becoming, like, a vernacular maybe.

And you’ve brought up brunch before in this convo. I love the hell out of brunch, I can’t front.

So to your earlier point…

Ogden:  Hahaha absolutely, and as a creative ensemble, we tried to articulate as many of the Millennial colloquialisms we could.

I love the hell out of brunch too!

Who doesn’t?!

BP:  What stereotypes do you think bear some truth to them, and what do you think people aren’t explaining for why those characteristics might be?

Ogden:  But simply loving brunch and filters does not a deep, multifaceted human make.

I think a good example for this kind of a thing might be the selfie:

On one side, I guess it can be a self-love thing–sharing your image and receiving near-to-instant support, encouragement, and/or validation. There is inherent value in that, no doubt.

On the other side, there is shallow self-obsession.

There’s a dichotomy to nearly everything.

BP: What are some other examples of things that you think are truly Millennial things?

Ogden: I don’t know that these are truly “Millennial things,” but definitely things that have been associated with millennials, for whatever reason: selfies, hashtags, abbrevs, Buzzfeed, brunch, Netflix, useful apps, life hacks — to name a few.

BP: Do you think there are any truly Millennial things? If you could throw the stereotype out of the window, how would you describe us?

Ogden: Trying. More powerful than given credit for. Willing to walk in the dark. Confused. Good at talking. Seeking information. Pragmatic idealists. Pioneers.

BP: It’s funny, you’ve written in sentences mostly, but for that question, the response reads almost like a social media bio.

Ogden: To be honest with you, that comes directly from a manifesto we wrote as an ensemble at the end of our workshop for this piece. The prompt was “at this moment, above all else, I believe Millennials are” — and that has guided our process in many ways.

BP: Oh, wow.

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Hope Helmuth

Ogden: Is that a good wow?

BP: Yes!

Ogden: Haha

BP: It’s very interesting that a description of that size could be a touchstone like that, but it also seems fitting

Ogden: Know your brand / have your elevator speech ready, I guess?

BP: That seems very of the age too
So let me get this right.
With the play, you’re working to show the multifaceted beings that we are, beyond the stereotypes right
How does the piece go about doing that? Did the description you cited help?

Ogden: Yes — to own up to the truths, and to call some bullshit.
You’ll have to come see it, won’t you!?

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