“Theatre is about playing dress-up. This is a play about playing dress-up.”
Thus Dorothy Fortenberry DRA ’08 explained “We’re Celebrities, We’re Just not Famous Yet.” “Celebrities,” Fortenberry’s newest script, is being produced at the Yale Cabaret from Oct. 19-21.
The title of the show is taken verbatim from an episode of “My Super Sweet Sixteen,” which serves as the inspiration and cultural touchstone of the show.
“This girl had a concept of herself as a celebrity — a concept separate from actually being famous,” Fortenberry said after Wednesday’s dress rehearsal. “I started watching this show last year. … I became fascinated with the idea of growing up and having this as your model.”
Appropriately, the cast consists of two actresses — Patricia McGregor DRA ’09 and Amy Hertzog DRA ’07 — portraying two teenaged friends, Britney and Jessica. The pair alternate between preparing for Britney’s Sweet Sixteen gala (to be held the next day) and engaging in costumed portrayals of their favorite celebrities. The planning scenes are a keen portrayal of the popularity struggles of teenage girls, with all their narcissism and petty misandry. Fortenberry had originally planned to pen two separate plays, one dealing with “Sixteen” and the other with the contemporary portrayal of celebrity in the media.
But she soon realized that “the issues and pressures were the same, and I felt it would be more fun to make one big play about both.”
The stars portrayed by the two girls come across as one-dimensional figureheads of a vacuous media culture. Inconsistent at best and downright unhealthy at worst, their personalities are comprised of no more than their latest Rolling Stone interviews. Each celebrity — be it Jessica Simpson, Michelle Williams or Britney Spears — is duly skewered in light of her recent public escapades.
Of course, a play that rests on such pop culture references is necessarily perishable. The next issue of US Weekly could easily turn a joke from incisive to laughable. The Cabaret proved to be the perfect venue for this time-sensitive production. As Fortenberry explained, “I wrote it because I knew the Cabaret could put it on. … Speed is essential to a production of this nature.”
Despite an extremely short production cycle, pop culture refused to stand still for even a few days: The recent breakup between Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn required that one scene — a mildly barbed exchange between Britney as Aniston and Amy as Angelina Jolie — be partially rewritten.
The play sometimes operates on a rather acerbic level, mocking everything from Katie Holmes’ marginal acting skills to the recent rise of pregnancy as part of the celebrity aesthetic. However, judgment is not Fortenberry’s sole aim.
“I’m very curious about the effect that present media culture has on young women,” she said. “At the same time, I find this stuff incredibly fun. This play comes from a place of love for these things. I’ll go to Gawker for a while, and then I’ll feel a little sick, but then I’ll go back the next day.”
The play does, in fact, force the viewer to consider the dramatic layers of her script. The audience sees a play about two girls taking their cues from a television show about wannabe celebutantes who idolize an unstable media culture. Discovering who is really in charge is difficult enough. True to her word, Fortenberry ends the play with a series of admirable twists. Whatever the level of engagement, an audience member would be hard-pressed to leave without a new perspective on the modern cult of celebrity.