EDITH starts previews tomorrow, and we’re thinking about family. Staff members have been sending in sweet ’90s pictures of their home and family to use in our lobby display. It’s not too late to be included, too! Send your ’90s photos our way by Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #C1EdithFam.
BENJI It’s hard to concentrate on Pre-Calc homework, because you’re in that class with me, and college and differential equations just can’t compete.
— Budgeting Better
For Kenny and Benji, hours studying pre-calc and trig turn the boys from “study buddies” to boyfriends. And tonight in rehearsal, a practical question about how to get their piles of math homework offstage turned into a moment of ’90s nostalgia when we discovered that some of the under-30s in the room didn’t know what a Trapper Keeper was.
The Trapper Keeper was the rare school supply that was both functional and expressional. A three-ring binder that contained “trapper folders,” this all-in-one notebook, binder, and folder allowed students to travel light to class by switching out folders and then take everything home at night in one easy-to-carry package. But best of all, Trapper Keepers came in loads of funky colors with all sorts of designs, from dogs and cats to space aliens to Ninja Turtles. I imagine a Trapper Keeper with George Michael on it would be the height of ’90s cool.
According to propsmistress Molly, there’s something of a “cult” of Trapper Keeper collectors and fanatics, and a vintage Trapper Keeper in good condition can go for over $50 on Ebay. For the uninitiated, Mental Floss has a surprisingly extensive case study of the history and nostalgia factor of Trappers here. One aficianado compared Trapper Keepers to Smartphones: they were “the greatest three-ring binder ever created … Trapper Keepers—the way they combined all of one’s desktop tools—were an early incarnation of the smartphone.”
It was fun to be able to show your personality through the binder that you had. You don’t really remember a notebook or the pens and pencils you used. But maybe you remember your [Trapper Keeper]. The binder wasn’t a regular school product. When you got it, it was almost like a Christmas present. You were excited to have it.
— Peter Bartlett, Director of Product Innovation for AACO Brands, a producer of Trapper Keepers
Though we never see peripheral characters like Benji’s Mom or Tom and Dina Osheyack, these characters have a life of their own in the descriptions we get from Kenny, Benji, and Edith. Of all these characters, none sums up classic ’90s mean girl like Jemma Lieber, the “brainless perpetual shopping machine” who Benji’s brother seduces to prove his own hetero-masculinity. Jemma also serves as an unseen foil to strong, capable Edith, who would never let a guy tell her what to do.
On this note, here’s arguably the most classic image of ’90s teen girl vapidity, from the 1995 film Clueless.
Though we hope Jemma, like Cher, has a smart, independent streak that she’s just waiting to let out! Benji’s brother? Who needs that guy!
Though modern technology has all but done away with the cassette tape, making a mixtape for your crush remains a serious endeavour. The maker must put his or her heart on the line and, even though one is couching his feelings in song, there’s still a level of vulnerability inherent in the act. What if your crush has different music taste then you? How many love songs are too many? And what about tone? Upbeat and funky? Sweet and romantic? Punk rock or bubblegum pop?
For Benji, making a mixtape for Kenny is meant to be a gesture comparable to Kenny sharing the story about his mother’s death and why he must lie about it to his sister. We think Benji probably spent a whole afternoon rocking out to George Michael and creating a mixtape for Kenny. But never fear, audiophiles and philia-philes! If you don’t have the time or 8-track technology to make a cassette mixtape, this article from Complex.com will walk you through “How to Make the Perfect Mixtape in the Digital Age” in ten easy steps.
For those of us who grew up in the cassette era, “mixtape” isn’t just a backronym; we can actually remember listening to music that was encoded on a spool of tape inside a plastic case. And all the tactile sensations, hissing analog sound textures, and technological limitations that went along with it stay with us—even as we drag-and-drop song titles into a playlist. But it’s been a long time since the music industry lost the “home taping is killing music” battle, and recordable media readily available to the public has exploded in the decades since then.
Keeping these pointers in mind, what does your mixtape sound like?
And while Benji doesn’t actually show Kenny his George Michael impression, if you’re really brave, you can always take a cue from the John Hughes’ guide to impressing your love and act out your mixtape. (We’ll forgive him the wrong decade because you can never go wrong with a little Otis Redding.)
Edith uses sci-fi stories to re-imagine herself as a kick-ass kid who doesn’t need adults to tell her what to do or to save the world for her. And lucky for her, the ’90s was somewhat of a golden age for sci-fi films and television. Den of Geek published this hilarious how-to list for parenting in the ’90s, as exemplified by its sci-fi cinema. Though the list is mostly light-hearted, this quote really sticks out when thinking about what draws Edith (and Kenny and Benji) to sci-fi:
How come sci-fi has such a connection with the issue of parenthood? Perhaps that’s natural, considering it deals with the future of humanity. But it’s worth bearing in mind that all science fiction is not so much about the unknown as the uncomfortable. It makes us view, with a fresh degree of objectivity, the problems that face us right now in the present time.
BENJI I know it’s you.
KENNY Do you just say that every time you answer the phone?
BENJI No, I know. The phone rings differently.
KENNY Do birds suddenly appear?
BENJI No. Stars light up in the sky.
The telephone has long been a classic symbol of independence for teenagers. With one’s own phone comes the freedom to talk, uninterrupted and unheard by parents. In EDITH, the distinctive “Bbbbrrriinnng” of a rotary phone is a constant source of anxiety for Kenny. Sometimes the sound signals stress in the form of a call from his distant father. Other times it brings excitement and the possibility of a date — if the call is from Benji.
But now, this sound that is so familiar to Kenny is a rarity. Household landlines are few and far between, and phones from the ’90s are increasingly considered vintage! This article (published in 1999, only a few years after cell phones hit the scene!) details the culture of vintage phone collectors, most of whom associate the rotaries and landlines of bygone days with beloved childhood memories. Check out the gallery of vintage phones below — can you spot which phones hail from the ’90s? (Hint: anything that is see-through or light-up will put you on the right track.)
Here’s more beautiful vintage rotary phones from last century!
…Faith, that is!
In the play, Benji has an amazing scene where he rocks out to “Faith” while writing a mash-note to his crush, Kenny.
Children of the late 1980s and early 90s remember — keenly, viscerally — the video and album cover for George Michael’s landmark hit and 1989 Album of the Year. George Michael wasn’t just totally boss, he was sexy as hell, and while his videos were full of supermodels, it was unspoken but generally suspected that he was gay (this was confirmed in 1989 with a public arrest for lewd behavior).
The hips, the moves, the tight jeans, the popped collar, the curled lip: he had it all. For everyone.
Of course, all this was long after he went by his birth name, Yorgos Panayiotou, and was an awkward teenager, just like Kenny, Benji, and Edith.