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Matthew Gasda Wants You to Watch “Zoomers” With Him

The indie playwright's latest work closes this weekend.

Matthew Gasda (Matt Weinberger)

Matthew Gasda calls himself a "self-hating millennial." Gasda, 35, is a playwright operating the Brooklyn Center for Theatre Research out of a loft in Greenpoint. Since the pandemic, he's become known for plays, most notably his previous work "Dimes Square," that bid audiences to observe the social worlds that exist in New York today.

But before 2020, he told me that he found himself "adrift." He says he never found his footing in millennial culture, telling me in a phone call that, "in a basic sense, I felt rejected, and not a part of the millennial snark culture." Like most writers in their 20s, he found himself less successful than he wanted to be, at the margins of the historical moment his age had drafted him into.

Things started making more sense in his 30s, when he began encountering Generation Z, the inspiration for his latest play, "Zoomers," which has been running at the Center since October. 

"In theater, there's a new generation of actors every spring who are graduating from drama schools," Gasda said. "And so by definition, most people in theater are young, because that's when the pool is the biggest." Meeting people younger than him jolted him into considering the generational divide, and crystallized an understanding of his own generation. "People were starting to kind of look up to me in a way that I looked up to writers when I moved to New York, and that was really jarring," he said. "It's like when you have a younger sibling, you have to admit that you're not the favorite anymore."

I asked Gasda what new understandings came from this period that led to "Zoomers," which takes place in the apartment of 20-something transplants as they indulge in and numb themselves from the all-consuming "vibe" of young adult life. The play's ensemble cast includes Sophia Englesberg, Gasda's fiancé and a recent graduate of Rutgers's theater program.

"I think the most basic thing is the almost innocence of the Zoomers towards their own historical and material conditions, relative to millennials. Millennials came out of institutions with a sense that the institutions were no longer going to be able to support us. We were still trying to participate in Boomer institutions, and the infrastructure of America that we'd grown up with, but had the uneasy feeling that we weren't going to be allowed to," Gasda mused. "Millennials ironized this downward shift, and occasionally tried to protest against it, but then ended up getting hired by the companies they were protesting."

"Zoomers, to me, have none of that kind of bad faith irony. There's an acceptance there of their position and there are more attempts to have fun with it," Gasda continued. "Zoomers are like: I'm not going to pretend that going into finance is bad while going into finance. I'm just gonna go for the finance job. I'm not going to pretend that selling out is bad, I'm just going to become an influencer. I'm not going to pretend that pharmaceuticals are bad, I'm just going to take the pharmaceuticals." 

He added, "Maybe it's just that the anxiety about all these things had been pushed down a level lower."

Gasda seems to find himself more at home in this milieu, which he identifies with the vibe shift wrought in the city by the pandemic. The space he stages his plays in, the Brooklyn Center for Theater Research, is appointed with grandmotherly furniture. The night I went, the space upstairs was pumping ambient marimba music that leaked onto the stage. I looked upstairs and found a rave attended entirely by people in beds. "Post-pandemic there was a huge culture shift around the city in which doing loft and underground theater was cool. And before that, it was not cool," Gasda told me. "[Back then] I got the sense that people came to [underground] plays, they saw something good in them, but they [would] think, well, if it had an institutional stamp, I would tell my friends. And then after 2020, that totally flipped and people tell their friends about it because it's not institutional."

"Definitely the kind of work that I'm doing benefited from the shift in values. There are other factors," Gasda hedged. "Like in the summer of 2020, a lot of people in tech and crypto got two-year leases on big lofts. And then those people were looking to become patrons of the arts. And they were giving space away in their lofts. So my theater became a form of cultural capital for like, crypto libertarians with no received ideas about what theater should be, and money and space to burn. A lot of people left the city, and new people came in, there was a generational shift. That was the moment where the city became like a Gen Z city in a meaningful way." 

"So the city around me changed." 

I asked Gasda for his recommendations for readers looking to do something in that changed city.

Through March 2: "Zoomers" by Matthew Gasda at The Brooklyn Center for Theatre Research. 249 Huron St, Brooklyn. $45-$75

"Zoomers is done this weekend, but it'll be back probably in April. We're just sorting that out. The characters are upper middle class Zoomer strivers. They're still wound up to go forward, but then there's some part of them that's just hitting the brakes constantly. In the play, it's represented as the characters all pulling in two very different directions. There's a scene in the play about someone who just doesn't know how to go on dates. Or getting toilet paper is hard, or getting off the couch is hard or showing up at work as hard. They're lacking certain skills we take for granted."

Through March 3: "Dissolution" by David Levine at The Museum of the Moving Image. 36-01 35th Street, Queens. $10-$20

"Levine got a grant to buy this hologram machine from this obscure company in Australia, and then he wrote a monologue and directed the actor who was scanned for the machine. So the machine performs the monologue as this woman's hologram. It's a form of theater, arguably. It feels human, while also inherently commenting on its own lack of humanity. It's just good. It's really good writing. The hologram performance is good. And it's something you can't see on the internet, which I think is great. In the era of NFTs a lot of things just don't feel special, but I think the hologram is truly something that you have to be there to see. And so that sense of occasion is kind of cool."

March 6-9 "childdeathsong" by Matthew Gasda, and March 15-16: "Messages" by Matthew Gasda, at The Brooklyn Center for Theatre Research. 249 Huron St, Brooklyn. $23.18

""Messages" is actually my first play, but I've worked on it for years. That's kind of a romantic comedy. It's sort of a relationship play. The other is "childdeathsong", which is a pretty dark play [about] a couple that lost a child. Those are both a big part of my repertoire there. They all feature actors I worked with a lot and like."

Daily from 6 p.m.-10 p.m.: Light and Sound Design, above the Brooklyn Center for Theatre Research. Prices vary.

"About six weeks ago, this guy from Athens came, and he was on an internet date. He said there were two things going on tonight: The Gasda play and my favorite DJ. We have to see this DJ and we have to see a Gasda play, and I looked them up and they're in the same space! And he was so excited. It was surreal. So there's occasionally a tiny cross section of people who are both fans of European house music and my plays." 

Anytime: Touch football at the Prospect Park Parade Grounds, Brooklyn. Free

"American football. Just touch football, we get a lot of journalists and a lot of people who played some kind of sport in college. But I grew up in a steel town playing sports all the time. I think it's a lot of people who have laptop jobs. Everyone's like, I'll play once, bro. And then completely get into it." 

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