By Madeline Ury
Pittsburgh Current Intern
In a society where technology is one of the most integral aspects of everyday life, it can’t be ignored — even in the world of theater. With constant technological developments, extensive communication now takes place over text.
Playwright Matt Schatz experienced the importance of technology in communication first-hand. His long-distance texting relationship with his sister inspired the creation of his new play, The Burdens.
“The Burdens” runs from April 6-May 12 at City Theater, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. http://www.citytheatrecompany.org
The Burdens, making its world premier at City Theatre, is described as “a dark comedy for the digital age about pop culture, connection and the value of actual face time.” While it explores issues far beyond texting and technology, it emphasizes how much of human connection occurs online and over text messages in today’s world. The play has something for everyone to relate to.
“The Burdens isn’t a play about texting,” Schatz explains. “It examines economic struggles, family obligation, ethical and moral questions, heritage, sex and death, and birth and art. It’s a comedy. And it’s also a thriller.”
Schatz recalls that moving away from his family for the first time has made them closer emotionally, although the distance is greater than ever. He feels that in reflecting on such text messages, he often remembers them as spoken conversations, which comes through in the play.
“My sister and I are both really fast texters and talkers so I do think there can be the kind of immediacy, urgency, and tension in texts that exist in a phone or in-person conversation,” Schatz says. “Certainly you can joke over text or fight over text just as you can in real life. But there are significant differences between texting and talking.”
Artistic Director Marc Masterson explained that while the dialogue is mostly through texts, not much technology is used in the production, besides your typical light and sound effects. He emphasizes that what is important in telling the story is the behaviors used when communicating through this medium.
The play features only two characters, portrayed by Catherine LeFrere and Ben Rosenblatt. The intimacy of the brother-sister relationship is perfectly portrayed through putting the focus on only the two of them.
“The story is not limited in any way because of the cast size,” Masterson says. “In fact, the humor and misunderstandings that we have when texting are perfectly expressed in the play.”
Schatz echoes these sentiments, explaining how easy it is to take jokes literally, without hearing the tone of someone’s voice in real time, and how much less intimidating it is to be brutally honest without looking them in the eye.
These habits that have been adopted over time are what really inspired Schatz when writing the play.
“I really do think at this point half of my daily conversation takes place electronically,” he sas. “How has the way we communicate now changed the way we relate to one another? It all seemed inherently theatrical to me.”
The theatrics behind these interactions started to interest Schatz in creating a story around a modern, digital familial relationship.
Another factor in the writing process was Schatz’s involvement in the Los Angeles Playwrights Union. Tasked to write a play start to finish in just one month, he wrote about his family because that’s what he knew best.
City Theatre productions are always aimed to be accessible to all. With a play like The Burdens that is extremely relevant to the world and millennial culture today, this accessibility continues to be important.
City Theatre offers “Pick-Your-Price-Previews” and “Pay-What-You-Want” performances in addition to senior and military discount options.
“Our goal is to ensure that price is never a barrier for our audiences or potential audiences; we want everyone to have access to the art,” Director of Ticketing and Patron Service Joel Ambrose says.
These ticket options come with benefits for the audience as well as the actors. The actors have the chance to perform for enthusiastic audiences thanks to these opportunities.
“By having these placed at the beginning of the run, it allows us to supply our actors with fantastic houses as well as using the word-of-mouth generated by those early crowds,” Ambrose says.
The creative team of The Burdens and City Theatre have a lot to be excited about with the upcoming production. The Burdens marks Masterson’s first production back at City Theatre in 18 years.
Schatz also feels particularly connected to City Theatre, as he spent years attending plays there and even spent some time interning with them.
“In the past couple years, Pittsburgh has embraced me and my work in ways that no other city has,” he says. “I couldn’t be more grateful, and I couldn’t be more excited.”