Q&A with Aurin Squire by Dan Berkowitz

So my knee is coming along nicely after the surgery a couple of weeks ago: I’m almost walking like a normal person, if a normal person walks kinda slow and stares at the ground to make sure he isn’t going to trip on anything. And last week I crossed my legs for the first time. Which was nice, until I looked down and saw what seemed like dirt on my inner thigh. When it didn’t rub off – but hurt when I touched it – I took a closer look in the mirror, only to find out it was a bruise about the size of Texas on the back of my leg. Turns out to be normal, according to the docs – a result of how they have to hold and manipulate your leg during surgery.

Okay. And it’s gradually fading. But then a few days ago, I noticed new bruises on my shin and my calf – almost three weeks after the operation! Panic time, but – bizarrely – with knee surgery, this is also “normal.” Traveling bruises. Who knew?

Anyway, all this is to explain why I’m still sittin’ at home, eatin’ bon bons, rather than tramping around town to review plays. But once again, through the magic of the internet, I was able to have a conversation with someone who has a show running and bring it to you here!

Aurin Squire is an award-winning playwright, journalist, and multimedia artist. A recent graduate of Juilliard, he’s had fellowships at the Dramatists Guild of America, National Black Theatre, and Brooklyn Arts Exchange, and has worked as a journalist for The New Republic, Talking Points Memo, ESPN, The Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, and over a dozen publications. His play Running on Fire will be at the O’Neill Theatre Conference this summer.

Aurin Squire. Photo: Ed Krieger

Aurin Squire. Photo: Ed Krieger

Another play of his, Obama-ology, was part of Juilliard’s summer workshop before premiering in London at Finborough Theatre in December 2014. The play was remounted at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London during the spring of 2015, and recently opened at LA’s Skylight Theatre, where you can see it until August 28.

Dan Berkowitz: In thirty seconds, can you tell us what Obama-ology is about?

Aurin Squire: It’s about getting thrown into the middle of a storm and having to grow from the turmoil and – eventually – find your way home. It just so happens that the storm is a presidential election and the person is a newbie campaign staffer.

Kurt Mason Peterson (L) and Nicholas Anthony Reid. Photo: Ed Krieger

Kurt Mason Peterson (L) and Nicholas Anthony Reid. Photo: Ed Krieger

DB: How political is the play? How political are you? How does the play reflect what’s happening in the country now, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and the presidential election?

AS: I’m political like I’m spiritual: my affiliations lie more with my principles than with parties or institutions. I’m a liberal libertarian, so I’ve actually worked and been a part of libertarian organizations like IHS and have worked as a producer/writer for years with them. But I’m mostly liberal so it’s a strange hybrid. And I did work on the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012, but I’m not someone who falls into a neat box.

Likewise, my play is political but then again everything is political. Those romantic comedies about hetero-normative people meeting cute and make it all about love is highly political in re-enforcing certain socio-economic and political narratives. Obama-ology does reflect what’s going on now but I don’t think I can articulate it without losing some of the scope or taking away someone else’s valid interpretation.

Brie Eley and Nicholas Anthony Reid. Photo: Ed Krieger

Brie Eley and Nicholas Anthony Reid. Photo: Ed Krieger

DB: The play was first produced in London – tell us how and why that came about.

AS: Playwright Kevin Kautzmann suggested I try sending it to a few small theatres in London. We met at a DGA mixer in NYC. Another aspiring playwright told me that London theatre is more political and relevant to what’s going on now than theatre in NYC. So when I finished Obama-ology and met Kevin I blasted it out to all the places I knew in NYC and then the theatres he knew in London. Sure enough the London theatres were interested, responded quicker, and seemed delighted that it was a play about contemporary issues. For writers of color in America we get pigeon holed into either writing about “the ghetto and crack-slinging” in a slam poetry-style play or writing about slavery… and maybe the civil rights movement… or a one-person slam poetry show about slavery and the civil rights movement. In America theatre is more about making old white audiences feel comfortable and satiated, so minorities are trotted out once or twice a year to re-enforce what they already assume. There is just a lot less complexity to our stories on American stages and a lot less venues interested in new playwrights of color who are talking about what’s going on right now.

DB: For many years, the American theatre was perceived as the province of white males. What’s it like for a playwright of color these days? Do you feel you have more opportunities? Can you write about anything you want?

AS: I have a lot of opportunities. I, Aurin Squire, the playwright who hustles and sends out emails, sees plays, networks has worked hard. I, Aurin Squire the African-American identified artist, am subject to all the limitations our society puts on people who look like me. So it’s a bit of a schizophrenic question because the answer isn’t clean and easy. There are some theatres which have no interest in my work. It doesn’t matter the quality of the work, they just aren’t interested in telling stories by people who look like me and many of these theatres are major institutions in the major cities. Any New York theatre artist can list the dozens of multimillion dollar institutions that have seasons that are clearly marked WHITES ONLY. And this doesn’t just happen one year, this happens for a decade.

Years ago I wrote experimental plays like Bleed and The Great Black Sambo Machine. These would receive workshops and enthusiastic responses from audiences. But no one was looking for a black voice to be experimental. They were looking for that next slave play, that next play to fill the February slot. So I do what I can, work harder, try to be more nimble, and find the places that do offer love. And those places are abundant in numbers.

L-R: Sally Hughes, Nicholas Anthony Reid, Kurt Mason Peterson, and Brie Eley. Photo: Ed Krieger

L-R: Sally Hughes, Nicholas Anthony Reid, Kurt Mason Peterson, and Brie Eley. Photo: Ed Krieger

DB: You came out to LA this summer to write for a TV show. What’s different about writing for the theatre and writing for TV – and what’s the same? Do you prefer one over the other?

AS: I wrote for BrainDead last year in New York City. It was my first job out of Juilliard and I got to live and work in Brooklyn until the job ended in April. I’m out here to work on This is Us on NBC this fall. I think playwriting is a more pure concentrate of creativity. TV is more fluid, collaborative, but also mechanical in structure because it has to fit the format of the distributor. I don’t have a preference, because they complement each other so well.

Director Jon Lawrence Rivera (L) and playwright Aurin Squire. Photo: Ed Krieger

Director Jon Lawrence Rivera (L) and playwright Aurin Squire. Photo: Ed Krieger

DB: What’s a fun thing about you that no one else knows? (And we guarantee not to tell…)

AS: I do better when I care less. This is true for me with people, jobs, relationships, everything. So part of getting older is caring less about what people think and I have found that it’s like an aphrodisiac for humans. So a weird thing about me is that I frequently get hit on by other guys when I’m sick or don’t feel good. I’m gay and also Buddhist so some times I take celibacy vows for a period of 3-6 months, some times a year. And I get a lot of phone numbers in those times as well… I don’t know the exact science but it’s happened to me so many times that I can’t deny it. So I guess I’m at my best when most people are at their worst.

Obama-ology
Written by Aurin Squire
Directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera

Through August 28

The Skylight Theatre
1816 ½ North Vermont
Los Angeles, CA. 90027

Tickets: (213) 761-7061 or online at SkylightTix.com


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