Magazine

Feature: Laura Eason

Date posted: 4 Oct 2011Author: Laura Eason

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I am afraid of this blog.

Well, that is a little overstated. But I am hesitant, at the very least, about this contribution.

See, I am incredibly comfortable putting my ideas out into the world as expressed through the fictional characters I create in my plays that I develop over months and years. But dashing something off as myself is always less comfortable for me. I read plenty of blogs and often have responses, but I never post or comment on anything. There is something about this mode of communication I am uneasy with. It is something I can't quite get to the bottom of except to say that, for someone who puts work out very publicly, I am a private person. And although I have plenty of things to say about a great many things, I feel no urge to impress them upon people outside my circle of friends and acquaintances in any way beyond my playwriting.

My reticence to participate in the worldwide blog phenomena combined with my total understanding of its huge appeal raises several questions for me. What do people get out of sharing parts of their lives, often very personal, intimate details, with strangers? How does what others share online affect the way we see them, especially if we actually know them? I think about how we google everyone new we meet and have all of this information - and impressions and, often, assumptions - gathered before we really get to know the person at all. How much does all this information help us get to know each other and how much of it gets in our way? How does the way we craft our online images really reflect who we are? If intimacy is gained through the sharing of one's inner life with another, what does it mean to be intimate in this moment when some people share everything with everyone?

All of these are central questions in my play Sex with Strangers. As our two characters, Ethan and Olivia begin to fall in love, what they disclose online about themselves and their pasts begins to creep in and affect their relationship and their ability to be together.

One of the reasons I wrote the play is because I think we are living in a very interesting moment. Those in their mid-20s, as Ethan is, have lived most of their lives online, sharing much of what they do, think and feel. Olivia, however, in her late 30s, is uncomfortable with the level of online disclosure so natural to Ethan (you can imagine which character's point of view is more familiar to me). As we continue to seek meaningful connections in our lives, what does it mean when one's contact with friends is more often virtual than not, and what one used to write in a diary is now posted daily for anyone to read? What is intimacy now? What does it mean to know someone now?

The play is very naked in a lot of ways (although, no one is actually naked in the performance. Sorry.) It is just two characters; the style is hyperrealism. There is no heightened theatricality or surrealistic diversion. It is just about the relationship of those two people, talking in a room or two. As someone who has done a variety of work, often highly theatrical adaptations of classic texts, this piece is the most "naked" I have ever written. There is no elephant chase, no storming of the Bastille, no trip down the river to distract from the words and the characters I have created. The whole endeavor of this play was to take a risk. To delve into thematic territory that isn't always comfortable or polite but is in fact revealing and raw. I even wanted to push my comfort level with the title. I chose something that was totally appropriate for the play but that I knew I'd be a little embarrassed telling my Dad. In fact, until Steppenwolf picked it and I knew he'd see the title in print, he knew it only as "the blogger play." For me, the exploration of what it means to be - literally and metaphorically - intimate, exposed, naked, and known is at the heart of this story.

Of course, I hope everyone will find the questions and ideas we are exploring engaging and interesting but, most of all, I hope it sparks questions of your own. I'm very curious to see what the response is to the play. Although, I'd be much more comfortable talking about it with you in the lobby afterward than reading your blog posts. But I know I need to get over it. Both Olivia and I are trying.

Laura Eason is the playwright of Sex With Strangers.

This note was first posted on the Steppenwolf Theatre Company blog.

Sex with Strangers, Wharf 1, 24 september - 24 November, 2012.