About ten years ago I started to feel like maybe the future wouldn’t be so great. Not my personal future, but the future we were creating by destroying the environment and racking up national debt like a teenager with a credit card. I was hearing dire predictions, things like, “By 2050, the oceans’ fish will be gone,” and “Soon, China will own us.” As with most things that scare me to death, I tried to put it out of my mind. But it kept creeping back. What would life be like in a world in which China “owned us”? In which the oceans were clogged with tons of garbage? And could the generations born into that world ever forgive us for having allowed it to happen?
I felt haunted by people who didn’t exist yet.
It took a few years, but I finally started writing scenes for these characters, and found it was a great way to exorcise my own fears. In Future Anxiety, all of the worst-case scenarios have happened. Americans are sent to China to work off the national debt, strawberries are extinct, and toilet paper is rationed to one square a day. Cryonics patients from the 20th century wake up to a world with no fresh air. The situations are ludicrous and horrific, yet strangely plausible.
Because my anxiety knew no bounds, I soon had more than 20 characters in scenes that spanned three continents. It was an epic. It was also, essentially, unproduceable. Most theaters do not have the resources to produce a 20-character play, and the ones that did were reluctant to take a chance on an unknown play and playwright. By the fall of 2010 I was convinced that I would have to produce it myself, with money I didn’t have. (I was eyeing those credit cards.)
So it was a fantastic day when I got a call from Jim Simpson, Artistic Director of the Flea Theater, saying he wanted to direct the play. The large cast size wasn’t a problem for the Flea, which has an even larger resident company of wonderful young actors called the Bats. I had admired Jim’s work at the Flea ever since I’d seen Benten Kozo, a mind-blowing mash-up of Kabuki and rock-and-roll. He had heard about Future Anxiety from Arthur Kopit, who had seen a reading of the play at the Lark Play Development Center. Future Anxiety went into rehearsals in March 2011 and is now running through May 26.
It’s now a decade since I had my first inkling of future anxiety, and time seems to be moving faster. Katrina, Fukushima, melting glaciers, hermaphrodite frogs, and the Octomom are a few of the horrific and ludicrous events that have already happened before our eyes. Suddenly the world of Future Anxiety doesn’t seem so far away –
or far out – anymore. I wish it did.
Laurel Haines lives in New York City and writes plays and musicals.
The Flea is located at 41 White Street between Church and Broadway, three blocks south of Canal, close to the A/C/E, N/R/Q, 6, J/M/Z and 1 subway lines. Tickets are $25 and are available by calling 212-352-3101 or online . Please also note: all Tuesday performances are Pay-What-You-Can, subject to availability at the door, only 1 ticket per person.