Academic journal article Liminalities

Butch Gardens: Tumblr Plays and Online Personae

Academic journal article Liminalities

Butch Gardens: Tumblr Plays and Online Personae

Article excerpt

Butch Gardens: A Lesbian Soap Opera is a blog serial of scripts and thumbnail sketches published twice a week on Tumblr from November 26, 2013, to December 25, 2014. I wrote the scripts under the nom de plume Mocha Tchokha Rose. The posts use a non-realistic comedic style to follow a number of women characters-all of whom identify as gay-whose airplanes crash land in an abandoned amusement park in the Amazon rain forest. Butch Gardens is an outcropping of my Blogger site, Plays: Short and Strange, a blog for short plays that I created in 2012 under the pseudonym Westward Ho. In this essay, I explore how writing is affected by the blogs' use of online personae distinctly separate from their author's offline life. Specifically, I look at the relationships between online personae and marginalized identities. Finally, I assess the future of plays on the internet.

Let me discuss why I began blogging. As a playwright, I am interested in alternate ways of getting scripts to audiences apart from stage production. Traditional print publication is another obvious way; however, print publishing conventions have historically limited opportunity: in the U.S., standard practice dictates that print editions only be issued after successful stage production. As a result, stage production-particularly, narrowly conceived professional production- stands Cerberus-like at the gates, presenting an obstacle to distribution that does not exist for other writing genres, such as poetry and fiction. To increase the visibility of plays, I have considered other means of production/ publication: for example, I turned to audio productions and created the Arkansas Radio Theatre as a low-cost way to make digital performance available to wide audiences.1 It made sense to me that, in addition to audio productions, I would explore a twist on traditional print publication-print publication on the internet. Like many contemporary artists, I feel that, if I am not engaging in online opportunities, I am ignoring the world in which we live.

Online Personae / Noms De Plume

The Internet can grant a sense of anonymity to writers. This anonymity comforted me in my blog experiment because it meant that no one would ever know my connection to the writing unless I made that connection known. In creating online scripts, I wanted a freedom of artistic creation dissociated from my dayto- day professional and academic life. In other words, I wanted to write experimentally without the ramifications of public failure. Until this essay, I wrote truly anonymously, not letting even my closest friends know the name of my sites.

I did not foresee the ease with which a nom de plume takes on a life of its own. My use of an online persona led me to develop more online personae- friends and family of the first-weaving a whole metafictional world outside the original texts. In other words, the authorial personae became characters in a created world with other characters. A metafictional or metatheatrical understanding is suggested throughout Butch Gardens in that the story is selfconsciously presented as a play. Pictorially, each "episode" is accompanied by a thumbnail sketch, many of which feature a proscenium arch. Since Butch Gardens suggests that it presents an onstage world, the obvious corollary is that there is a offstage world. This offstage world is only hinted at on the Butch Gardens Tumblr site, but has a fuller manifestation in the originating blog, Plays: Short and Strange, on Blogger. Plays: Short and Strange features short playlets interspersed with other pieces that suggest "behind-the-scenes" representation. Through these pieces, we meet Westward Ho, the aspiring playwright who has ostensibly created Plays: Short and Strange, along with his family-notably his sister Sunny, a newlywed physicist; and his mother, Mrs. Ho. We also meet Mocha Tchokha Rose, a student from Westward's playwriting class whom Mrs. Ho enlists to write for the blog. Mocha ostensibly creates Butch Gardens, which she writes on her own or as part of MTR Studios, a group of aspiring authors who meet together in the backroom of Panera Bread. …

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