Aurin Squire discusses his play, Boxing the Sun, which will be published in the second issue of Proscenium Journal later this week.
What was your inspiration for this play?
I was staying in New York City during a particularly sweltering summer and I spent a lot of time walking the East Village streets, searching for shade and relaxation. I would see life unfolding on the streets, and the temperature seemed to bring out the uninhibited nature in a lot of people. I saw and heard a lot of raw, violent, potent, sexual, dangerous things happen. At the same time I was hanging out with friends and we would riff and improv some of these people we would see on the streets. These voices began to grow in my mind, along with their aching, longing, struggles, and desires. The final part of the puzzle happened outside of a bodega one night and I met a college student who was selling his books for extra money. I picked up “Winesburg, Ohio” and started reading it that night. Sherwood Anderson’s woven tapestry structure fascinated me and I wondered if it could be done on stage with a play. As an experiment, I began taking these voices in my head and stitching them into short scenarios, and then trying to weave these incidents into a snapshot of an entire world.
What do you want the audience to come away with?
The aesthetic approach may be experimental but the emotional impetus behind “Boxing the Sun” was very traditional. This is a drama with passionate characters in desperate situations out of love, desire, and lust. I guess I want to achieve that most traditional emotion of classic drama, which is catharsis and empathy.
What playwrights have inspired you?
I read and reread that book “Playwrights at Work” until it fell apart in my hands. So pretty much anyone in that book: Arthur Miller, August Wilson, Tennessee Williams, Lillian Hellman, John Guare, Tom Stoppard, Edward Albee, Wendy Wasserstein, Harold Pinter, Eugene Ionesco, Neil Simon, David Mamet. I was fascinated by how each writer revealed their process or chaos of ideas. Before I read or saw many of the actual plays of these craftsman, it was great to learn about their process so that I could approach their work with critical eye as individual pieces as well as a part of their larger professional trajectory. I would add I’m inspired by many other playwrights including Michael Weller, Peter Parnell, Marsha Norman, Christopher Durang, Thomas Bradshaw, Tony Kushner, and many many more.
Why did you start writing plays?
I was required to in order to graduate. I got into Northwestern University’s Creative Writing in the Media Program for my last two years in college. One of the classes in the cirricullum was writing for stage. I had never thought of playwriting before, but I was intrigued. So I approached each session with complete innocence and playfulness. I think that came across in the way I was writing and the teacher (Susan Booth) really encouraged me. I was thinking about that playfulness this morning as I was mapping a church scene where the actors in drag would pass around a collection plate in the audience. So I’m always tweaking the level of play and satire. So instead of a collection plate, I started envisioning them using their wigs to collect money. And then I started imagining them taking this money from the wigs and throwing them on each other, making it rain like a stripper club. And then having a sermon going on about the joys of giving or a gospel song while they ‘make it rain.’ So each time I’m taking something and always trying to do a improv game of ‘and then.’ I think this is what keeps me entertained and writing.
What projects are you working on now?
I have a few fellowships and commissions this year so I’m working on about 4 different plays. This is not normal for me. The church play i mentioned is for Brooklyn Arts Exchange and it’s called “The Gospel According to F*ggots,” which is an absurd, queer, sex-positive reinterpretation of Bible stories that are in verse. I’m halfway through that. For the Dramatist Guild I have a very very rough draft of a comedy about love that’s a Robert Altman-esque piece of these bizarre stories and the power of storytelling and love, set in this mythical town called “Storytown, USA” which is also the name of the piece. For National Black Theatre, I just finished a rough draft of “The Zoohouse” which is a mental asylum for the ‘black and criminally insane’ set in a future where blacks have been so over policed, murdered, and brutalized that most live in these government wards doped on drugs. In 2015 I’ll be filling out ‘Zoohouse” adding music, verse, poetry. And at Juilliard I just brought in 2 new plays this semester that I’m excited about, but the last piece was “A Family Manual For Kwanzaa” and it’s an absurd play about everything that went wrong when my family tried celebrating Kwanzaa as well as the distortion of the American dream through contemporary media and politics. And I’m just starting research on “NDE,” a near death experience comedy and a woman who comes back and is surrounded by her family and small-town friends who are trying to find a way to use her experience to their advantage.
What kind of theatre excites you?
Theatre of motility, music, and spectacle. Theatre of dance, verse, and energy. I’m interested in a stories that are vigorous, poetic, kaleidoscopic, and epic.
What advice do you have for playwrights starting out?
Do a 20: study 10 other art forms and 10 other subjects. And then come to the stage. I think writers who go to theatre summer camps and start off writing plays tend to create very dry and boxy works. The most imaginative and comprehensive theatre creators tend to come at it from different backgrounds and art forms. Before I got involved in theatre I had studied film, radio, tv, journalism, poetry, Russian literature, classical music. And I had a deep interests in Russian history, British politics, football, tennis, military strategy, ants, sociology, and a buffet of other subjects. If we enrich and expand our internal life, this will spill out onto the page. And then you don’t have to heed the advice of ‘don’t bore the audience’ because you wouldn’t waste your time with anything that didn’t fit into the magical expansive world of your life.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I think having a spiritual and physical life are two other elements that make for a dynamic artists. To engage in something physically creative (yoga, dance, kayaking, tennis, etc) keeps the body flexible and young. And then to have some sort of spiritual habit awakens the soul every day.