The Weird World of D. P. Roberts

Jason Sebacher ·

Imagine a high school where every day feels like an episode of Black Mirror crossed with The Breakfast Club. Welcome to Venkman High School, the setting for D. P. Roberts's trio of captivating science fiction plays for teens. Within the school’s unassuming, all-American hallways, the world of technology and social media collide with the weird and mystical. These full-length scripts for high schoolers explore the comedy and perils of a wild not-too-distant future.

At the heart of these plays are recurring characters who develop as the series progresses. Meet Daniel, the outspoken video game and internet addict who never backs down from a challenge. His sister Alex, a cornerstone of stability, contrasts sharply with Fishface, the enigmatic and sometimes-villainous tech whiz. Helen, a fiercely intelligent hacker, escapes her hardships by digitizing herself, while Goth Sheila, a sarcastic yet golden-hearted outsider, provides a grounded perspective in the midst of chaos.

So far, there are three plays in the series (a fourth is under development in conjunction with Chicago Public Schools). The first play, Inner Sanctum, thrusts a group of friends into a mysterious video game to solve a friend's disappearance. The Ghost follows Helen’s journey as she is tricked by the CEO at her internship into uploading her consciousness into the Cloud, leaving her former bullies to rescue her. Finally, Sybil, an "Instagram play" wherein students memorialize the perplexing murder a classmate everyone has an opinion of--yet no one has actually ever met.

Across all three plays, Roberts explores themes of friendship, technology, and identity, rendering high school life with humor and heart. Technology is not only a theme but a storytelling medium. Inner Sanctum uses special effects and puppetry to create a computer-generated world, The Ghost relies entirely on Zoom for character entrances and exits, and Sybil unfolds on Instagram, making the audience part of the virtual reality. By leveraging technology in innovative ways, the plays take on a new depth of significance for actors and audiences alike.

Of course, these plays stand alone and do not need to be performed in sequence. By diving into the weird world of D. P. Roberts, students can enrich their understanding of contemporary issues while enjoying an unforgettable theatrical experience.

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