When I was in fifth grade, after a long, hard night of sitting in front of the family computer, loitering around a magical cyber-fountain, I was randomly awarded ten thousand Neopoints. I was wearing a green Abercrombie T-shirt and my username was (and still is—I hope my Neopets aren’t dead) lizzieflower2003. I scrambled up the stairs and, exasperated, told my mom what had just happened. She rolled her eyes.
New York-based playwright Joeley Pulver’s newest production, A.I.M. To Please, doesn’t roll its eyes at such victories—quite the opposite, really. It will validate the heck out of your internet-infused adolescence. I saw the debut performance of the play at a tiny venue in Manhattan, sitting on a piano bench next to a friend I’ve had since my mediocre Harry Potter fanblog days. The show started out with a group of women, presumably between the ages of 22 and 26, taking the stage one by one, removing their sweatshirts to reveal their AIM screenname, printed across black T-shirts, and telling the audience how the username was conceived. One woman’s screenname was phobecello, because she loved (but couldn’t spell) the Greek mythological woman Phoebe and played the cello. I tried to remember why I chose prettynpinkxo88 as my screenname, and I couldn’t, because I didn’t feel pretty or wear pink growing up. Maybe the irony was an artistic choice.
The play does not follow a chronological storyline; rather, it is a compilation of experiences that each of these women had as young girls growing up with the internet and its endless possibilities at their fingertips. Through various means of expression they told the audience their stories of being catfished by a fake John Cena, of seeing a pornographic video of a former classmate that had been ripped from Omegle, of feeling both safe and seen behind the guise of a MySpace profile. At one point the women grouped together and sang a knock-off a capella version of the 2005 hit single “My Humps” over a video sequence of Bat Mitzvah photos, A.I.M. conversations, and those awkward pre-teen video monologues that everyone is guilty of posting on their friends’ Facebook walls.
I spoke to Pulver briefly after the show and raved to her about how validated A.I.M. To Please made me feel and how it had kicked up memories of my adolescence that had settled with the dust. She told me that that’s exactly why she and the other women in the play wrote it. One woman’s story from the girlhood internet sparked someone else’s recollection of another, and another, and soon enough, she had an arsenal she could lace together with a common thread. Together, their stories are powerful enough to move you to tears, but will probably make you cry of laughter, too.
From a young age, women must learn how to be seen, as we are always being watched. Our lives are always flecked with some degree of performance, because for us, the critical eye of society is inescapable. For women of my generation, the internet was a new frontier of being seen, and we were its fearless pioneers. A.I.M. To Please honors that in a way you didn’t even know you needed.
Want to see A.I.M. To Please on stage? Follow their Instagram @a_i_m_to_please_xoxo for updates on when it will be showing again. If you work at a venue that is interested in producing it in its second round, please contact the director at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’d like to share your own internet stories, DM the Instagram account or email at email@example.com.
top photo: AIM Homepage for Windows 3.1
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