How a 26-year-old wrote an acclaimed play about the foibles of his generation -- and what he learned about everyone else's


Five years ago I set out with a goal: to write a play revolving around people in my own generation. I was born in 1985, so my peers and I are known as members of Generation Y, or, for those of you who like to make us sound like a bunch of alien babies, Millennials.

While successful and insightful portrayals of our generation are developed in abundance in other mediums (The Social Network, Fox’s New Girl, any song by Lady Gaga), there are not many depictions of us in the form of nonmusical plays on the great American stage. This is probably because most people who attend the theater are old, rich, and white.

But my parents had just spent $160,000 putting me through NYU’s drama program, and my father is a big fan of the phrase ”I told you so.” I was going to write this play.

”Write what you know,” they say. And while I was certain that I was familiar with the generation into which I was born, I decided to do a bit of research (which just means that I Googled a bunch of s— and checked my Facebook account whenever I would get bored of reading).

What I learned was that we Millennials possess one factor that supposedly sets us apart from those who came before us. Is it incredibly clear skin, since most of us took Accutane at some point? No. The recurring description of our generation is ”entitled.”

I knew how we got this way. As a kid, I dropped out of the T-ball league every year (immediately after the team photo was taken) and they still gave me a trophy. ”You are special just for being you,” they said.

And then we grew up and our parents, professors, employers, and psychologists were like, ”You all have such entitlement! You think you can just do whatever you want and get rewarded for it!” And we were like, ”That’s literally what you guys have been teaching us for the past 18 years.”

”So how would this American epidemic of give-me-everything transfer to the personalities of characters in a play?” I wondered.

It was late one night, while I was having trouble making a bowl of Easy Mac, despite its name, that I had an idea. I wanted to examine what would happen to a group of ambitious and entitled Millennials when something threatens to sabotage their all-but-promised dreams.

I centered the play on a less privileged student at a prestigious university, a student she alleges sexually assaulted her, and the friends who get caught in the crossfire. With a controversy on campus, each character’s endgame is in jeopardy. And just like with T-ball, we Millennials have been taught to value the trophy and not the game… So what happens among us when our reward is at risk?

This was to be a play for our generation, by our generation. Like FUBU, except it’d be FOGBOG.

And then my play, Really Really, got picked up by the D.C.-area Signature Theatre?a Tony award-winning theater whose audience base has a median age of 112. I panicked as our first paying audience entered the building. But when the performance ended, many of those elderly theatergoers sought me out.

”That’s what we were like too,” they said. ”Everyone’s a mess in their 20s.”

My face contorted with confusion. And then it hit me.

Sure, there are aspects of this generation that set us apart?we are less likely to get married, we use social networks to create a constant sense of community, we all had our first experiences with sex through an innocent misspelling of ””?but at some point in our 20s, everyone is desperate, everyone is scared, and yes, everyone is entitled. This isn’t a generational trait. It’s just life. And while our potential normalcy is a little disappointing, isn’t it a little bit comforting, too?

We’re on a path that has been traveled before. We’re just another group of people, among a history of groups of people very similar to us, trying to figure out how to make it through this crazy world. Except we’re doing it with really clear skin.

Paul Downs Colaizzo’s play, Really Really, is playing at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., through March 25.

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