The Pipeline reading premiere of Aeneas Sagar Hemphill’s The Troll King is coming to the Bonfire Series on June 21, 7:30PM. In advance of the reading, we learned a bit more from Aeneas about the seeds of inspiration for this project, which include gender, sexualization, toxic masculinity, and gaming culture.
Learn more in our interview below and reserve your seat now for The Troll King, June 21, 7:30PM, Jefferson Market Library (425 6th Ave, NYC).
Pipeline Theatre Company: What do you want us to know about your play?
Aeneas Sagar Hemphill: People will probably come at this with “can I enjoy this if I’m not a gamer?” and I want people to know that this is not just a gamer play, or a play about video games per se. This is a play about gender, sexualization, toxic masculinity, about white male radicalization. I think there’s a tendency to consider games and gaming culture frivolous, or to at least distance ourselves from it as some sort of strange inscrutable subculture. But as our world blends with technology the lines have intersected and blurred in fascinating ways. Geek culture began as a safe space for people who didn’t fit into a dominant homogenous and patriarchal social order. There’s overlap with POC and LGBTQ culture, with underground music culture, with other social movements, though there has always been a gender dynamic based in what I call a Revenge of the Nerds narrative: the Girl thinks she wants an Alpha Male and can’t see the true value of the Nerd, who must win the Girl’s heart by publicly emasculating the Alpha Male with his intellect. This has developed into an ideology which, combined with an Ayn Randian libertarianism, creates this bizarre anti-feminism. Our most recent image of gaming culture involved coordinated online harassment and death threats against women in the gaming industry, which have serious implications in our current political landscape. So while this does try to reflect to some degree a gamer world—a world of which I grew up in and do not have these toxic beliefs—but this is not only relevant to the gaming community.
PTC: When and where did you decide to start writing this play? Why?
ASH: There’s this pseudo-philosophy on Reddit called the “Red Pill.” It’s an anti-feminist mythology of victimization that justifies itself with a cursory understanding of evolutionary theory. They were a major player in the #Gamergate debacle (which also helped make the career of Milo Yiannopoulos and other “Alt-Right” we know today). I’d recommend looking into it, as well as the responses from gaming publications like Gamasutra, who wrote a particularly assertive article headlined ‘Gamers are over,’ which disowned the #Gamergate “movement.” All across our culture we’re wrestling with oppression that’s baked into our language and our behaviors and our institutions, and it’s no different in the gamer community. I found the story of a group that began as a reaction to patriarchy, became a tool of patriarchy itself. I think this connects with how we view heroes and villains in society, and I wanted to delve into that complexity with a world that could be fun and that we don’t often get to see represented on stage with humanity.
PTC: What excites you most about this project?
ASH: I get to deal with really heavy themes with a sort of crudeness I wouldn’t otherwise. It’s liberating to be so frank about teenagers, and with theatre you can really bend reality. I wanted the real world to feel almost more unreal than the online and gaming worlds, which for many I think is a relatable experience. It also allowed me the freedom to place the events in a global context, which the internet constantly does.
PTC: In one sentence, tell us something strange that happens in your play.
ASH: Three descend into the Dark Web.
PTC: Are you working on anything else?
ASH: I have a bunch of stuff coming down the…pipeline. There’s a farce with spies and lacanian theory, a play based on the life of Rabindranath Tagore, Bengali poet, novelist, essayist, playwright and first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, an epic tragedy inspired by the black radical movements of the 60’s and 70’s, two pilots, a romantic comedy about Indian diaspora…I will be very busy.
PTC: What’s next for you?
ASH: Live. Create. Take over the world. 😉
About The Troll King
by Aeneas Sagar Hemphill | directed by Emily Moler
Wednesday, June 21, 7:30PM
For many, the internet is a safe haven but it can also be something more sinister. When a young gamer’s love goes unrequited, a breach of trust rocks the student body and fantasy and reality collide.