What does it feel like to grow up in a world that is at once more connected, more accessible and more instant, and yet more fractured and disorientating than ever before? That’s the question I wanted to attempt to explore in my new play for Boundless Theatre, ‘Natives’. Telling the stories of three teenagers across the globe on one average, life-altering day, ‘Natives’ uses myths, magic and an unseemly amount of name-dropping to look at this so-called Digital Native generation – to tell some tales that hopefully reflect the high stakes and moment-to-moment urgency of teenage lives now.
In researching the play, I was struck by a couple of things: firstly, by the way that this generation are actually incredible storytellers – whether it’s in the form of a YouTube confessional or a heartbreakingly perceptive meme (and if they’re not all that fussed about theatre as a form, well then maybe that’s theatre’s problem to solve). And secondly, by the tremendous, terrifying, awe-inspiring power that teenagers now possess. A power to not only change their own circumstances (for worse or better) but to alter and positively disrupt a world beyond their own immediate circumstances. A power that hasn’t yet been fully realized and exploited yet but one that – in these days when the ‘adults’ are spectacularly screwing things up – almost certainly will.
And yet… and yet. As I researched ‘Natives’, one other thing also became blindingly obvious: all the stuff that hasn’t changed. That, even though the press would often like to paint this Native generation as a curious and baffling new sub-species, in many ways the current ‘teenage experience’ is pretty familiar to anyone who was ever 14. That being young today is as thrilling and overwhelming and brilliant and scary as it always has been – only maybe amplified and blown up in strange new ways.
As author danah boyd suggests, “We must approach the idea of ‘digital natives’ with caution… One of the hardest yet most important things we as a society must think about in the face of technological change is what has really changed – and what has not.” Or, as writer Hervey Allen alternatively had it, “Each new generation is a fresh invasion of savages…”
So then, ‘Natives’. What’s changed and what hasn’t. Where we are right now and where we might go next. Adult worries and teenage dreams. Love, sex and a whole new collection of emojis. Feeling out of control and seizing all the power….
The ‘Natives’ are coming. I hope you enjoy.