Inside the Process: The Antelope Party
by Eric John Meyer
A workshop rehearsal for THE ANTELOPE PARTY at The Lark. (Playwrights' Week, 2017) - photo courtesy of The Lark
I started writing The Antelope Party during the 2016 presidential primaries as a way of processing what I saw taking shape in the Trump campaign. Though I was writing in response to the antics of his supporters, I knew from the beginning that Trump would never be mentioned or even alluded to in the play. I wanted to leave the world of politics and news cycles behind in order to explore something more essential about human nature. What makes us give liars a free pass on their lies? What happens when we start sorting people in absolute, binary terms—either with us or against us? I wound up writing a play that is, for me, about friendship and community, fear and paranoia, the seductions of power and the desire to slip by unnoticed.
From the time I started scrawling scenes into my notebook, until now, when the play is published and about to have its New York premiere, I’ve watched The Antelope Party evolve from a warning about where we’re headed to a meditation on how we got here. In its 2018 world premiere in Chicago, it was received as an examination of authoritarian tactics. In Russia, where it was part of The Lark’s Russia/U.S. Playwright Exchange, it was seen as an illustration of what happens when we practice naïve tolerance for everyone—even those who do wrong. Along the way, I have had individuals from Germany, China, and elsewhere pull me aside to tell me that The Antelope Party speaks to the frightening cultural shifts they are watching unfold in their home countries.
It’s at this point that I should mention The Antelope Party is a play about adult fans of the children’s cartoon My Little Pony. If you are not familiar with the Brony (bro + Pony) phenomenon, I urge you to go down that internet rabbit hole sometime. From early on, I knew I wanted to write something about these creative souls who had found their bliss in something so unapologetically silly. But I have to admit that when I started, I wasn’t sure why I was writing about Bronies and Fascism in the same play. It just felt impulsively right. Plus, it was fun.
Then I made an important realization: Fascism is just another form of cosplay—the popular pastime of dressing up like your favorite comic book, cartoon, or movie characters. Both activities offer people an exciting new identity, a sense of group belonging, and an alternate reality where the murky problems of their lives are replaced with a clear, heroic narrative. The difference is that cosplayers understand that their fantasies are just that and nothing more. They don’t demand universal participation in their games—or try to make them real through violence.
Watching this play’s journey over the years has in some ways made it more frightening to me. At a post-reading Q and A in Saint Petersburg, an audience member said that the play does a great job depicting the dangers we face from each other, then asked what we could do to counteract those dangers. I stumbled for a bit, hoping some words of wisdom would magically appear. When they didn’t, I had to say plainly that I didn’t know. What I do know is that the more I watch The Antelope Party, the more I wish we could find a way to oppose people without throwing them away. Right now, I don’t know what that looks like. And to me, that is truly frightening.
(This article was first published by The Lark.)