When Rising Youth Theatre first approached me about writing a play for them, I was a bit wary. RYT does important work. They create plays about serious, socially relevant topics, and the stuff I write, well…it leans more toward dumb and fun. But when they said this play is going to be about fandoms, and I was all in. Fandoms I can do. After all, I’m a fangirl myself. I’m all about HP and Star Wars and YA books and a million other fantastically geeky things. I’ve even been to the San Diego Comicon. Twice. So that makes me pretty legit. Right?
Here’s the thing. Fandom is kind of like money. The concept seems pretty straight forward at first. I give you this paper that represents value, and in exchange you give me goods and services. Easy enough. But then you go a little deeper and learn about compound interest, and mutual funds, and what the heck is a bitcoin any way? And suddenly you’re like—Whoa, hold up! This thing is actually huge, and complex, and kinda overwhelming, and I will never fully understand it for as long as I live.
Up front, fandom seems pretty simple too. It’s about loving something so bad that you happily devote a large chunk of your life to obsessing over it. It’s about escaping the crap reality you wake up in every day, and wishing with every cell in your body that you could just apparate yourself into Hogwarts, or the Whedonverse, or 1D’s tour bus. And it’s about connecting with other people who get that.
But here’s the thing. Fandom is huge, and complex, and kinda overwhelming. Being a dabster in one (or five) does not make you an expert across the board. Not only does fandom itself have its own language and culture, but each individual fandom does as well. There’s a pretty big difference between Dumbledore’s Army and the MCRmy. And if you want to know what #fakescandalfansbelike you’d have to ask a real one. And only hardcore Walking Dead Head knows that Bethyl shippers don’t come to play.
In other words, you can be a card carrying member of the 501st but that don’t make you fluent in Klingon.
After he found out I was writing a play about fandoms, my friend Charlie sent me this meme.
This is 100% accurate.
The show (or comic or band or book series) itself is just the tip of the iceberg. The fandom that lies beneath is ginormous. And like Chinese hell, it has many many levels. But just for simplicity sake, I will break it into four.
The first level is the casual fan. You watch a show and the next day talk to your peers. “Did you watch Penny Dreadful last night? Man, that was crazy!” Maybe you follow some of the actors/creators on twitter, read an article or two, but that’s about it.
Level two is the active fan. This is when you start going out of your way to be a fan. You go across town to attend an author’s booksigning, or see a concert. You sign up for newsletters and repost articles, memes, videos and tweets. At level two you go from being a fan to being fannish.
At level three you move beyond the consumption of the initial product itself and onto the creations of other fans. This is where you start reading the blogs and fanfic, listening to podcasts, checking out stuff on DeviantArt. This is also where your family and friends start to express some concern.
At level four you start making cool stuff. Now you are writing fanfic, making your own gifsets, starting a wizard rock band… To quote our play’s director, Sarah Sullivan, this is where fans go from being consumers to creators.
The sad thing is that level four can also be where you take the most flack. This is where people call you a nerd and make obnoxious comments about how much free time you must have. And that’s ridiculous because those level four fans are the coolest and most productive ones of all. Level four fans are the people who grow up to be novelists and astronauts and filmmakers, and then turn around and inspire a whole new generation of fankids.
Level four fans are also people like Auden Granger—our props designer, and a Harry Potter Alliance project manager—who turn their fandom passion into positive social change. For reals. While all the lazy asses at level zero and level one are on their couches casually consuming entertainment, these level fours are out there building libraries and getting large corporations to stop unethical business practices, all in the name of their fandom. Level four fans are changing the world.
So yeah, if there is one thing I have learned from writing FandomPlay, it is that I am most definitely not a legit fangirl. But I would like to be.
Fandom by Carrie Behrens will be performed at the Phoenix Center for the Arts June 13 – 21. Tickets can be reserved here www.fandomplay.eventbrite.com. Join the conversation on our Facebook (facebook.com/risingyouththeatre), Twitter & Instagram (@risingyouththea) and by using the hashtag #FandomPlay