“Playground” is a two-person performance loosely based on the cyber-sexual escapades of my adolescent self. Set in a fictionalized AOL chat room called Twelve in the late 1990s, the performance stages an online encounter between twelve-year-old “Anni” (AnneMarie Wolf) and twenty-seven-year-old “jobe” (Gene Gallerano). Their relationship, which plays out on stage through instant messages, imagined dialogues and telephone conversations, begins as a friendship and then becomes something more. However, in spite of the mediating role played by technology, their connection is very real.
Upending easy assumptions about the dangers of online relationships, “Playground” is a reflection on what it meant to come of age as a girl in the early years of the web, when it became the norm to learn about sex and relationships from websites and online strangers.
The show begins with the two characters on stage, typing on their computers to one another with a projected feed of their conversation for the audience. The two meet through a chat room community and start off as friends. Anni gives jobe advice on what to do with his manic internet girlfriend and jobe gives Anni self esteem boosts and advice on how to get boys to like her. As their relationship continues, jobe admits his romantic feelings for Anni and she returns them in kind.
The intensity in their relationship is realized formally by having the actors stop typing their lines and move fluidly to speaking them and eventually to interacting with one another out from behind their computers. The fantasy of their romance is only physically realized internally and is brought to life through theatrics.
jobe and Anni consummate their relationship through cyber sex and then jobe coaches Anni through her first phone sex experience. As they continue to be close and share their feelings, jobe begins to ask more and more of Anni, and she starts to feel uncomfortable with their relationship and questions if she is being exploited.
“Playground” looks at power dynamics, identity and sexuality through a controversial relationship. As I started to talk publicly about this project, women around my age would come up to me in private and express that they too had similar experiences when they were young and had also never told anyone about them. “Playground” addresses this culture that requires women to explore their sexuality in secret and in shame, the benefits to having this happen online and the emotional and exploitative toll this takes as well. By looking back at our past experiences, I believe our current knowledge of how today’s young girls are dealing with the internet will also be shaped.