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London play explores perception of interracial relationships

INTERRACIAL RELATIONSHIPS: Don’t Smoke In Bed stars Greg Lockett and Clare Latham

MULTI AWARD-winning American playwright and journalist Aurin Squire is returning to the UK with a new play after the success of last year’s production, Obama-ology.

Squire’s new play, Don’t Smoke In Bed, is an exploration of social and racial perception in the US. In the production, staged at southwest London’s Finborough Theatre, Jamaican-American Richard and white-American Sheryl are starting a family together. When they agree to a series of ‘bedroom interviews’, they believe that their interracial relationship is the focus of the article.

As both play up to what they believe are the expectations of the interviewer, they embark on a journey that challenges their relationship to the core as the barriers between psychological and social, sexual and political, public and private, melt and dissolve.

Here, Squire tells The Voice why he’s interested in the dynamics of interracial relationships and what he’d like to change about the theatre industry.


HOT TOPIC: US playwright Aurin Squire

Why did you decide to write a play on interracial relationships?
In America, love is the last barrier to becoming a truly desegregated culture. We put everything of ourselves into relationships: our class, race, gender, sexuality, politics, family upbringings. And that’s what makes it such a powerful and difficult thing to look at with objectivity. When I say this to people of colour they completely get how all these things go into a relationship.

Then I realised that for many white Americans they probably think their love was just love; that their love was the universal narrative and unsullied. Many felt that they didn’t have anything to do with these intersections of life. I found that really interesting. And then you walk around and see more interracial couples and you start to ponder if they’ve had those ‘conversations’ and when how far do they go? I think [the play] delves into culture, race, class, sexuality, and many different elements, while being specific to this couple.

This is not your first play to be performed in the UK. How does it feel to have your work performed overseas?
It’s great to have plays happen in your hometown. You’re there, you’re friends are there, you go to rehearsal all the time. But having a play in another country is more pure. You deal with professionals, you break down the issues, the focus isn’t about how many free tickets I can get for my aunts. The focus is on the story and I’m more trusting because you realise you can’t pop into rehearsal on a whim.

You can maybe come and oversee something, but then you have to go. So I think everyone works to get everything as clean as possible. Plus, London is a fantastic theatre town. I’m not going to engage in the ‘American vs. British actor’ debate but I love British actors and directors. I love the direct approach to doing things that feels ‘bone clean,’ or at least it feels that way from a distance.

Don’t Smoke in Bed is set in the US, why should the British public be interested in it?
It’s set in the US, but it’s an interracial relationship between two people who love English culture. The journey into becoming a lover of British culture is much different for an African American man whose parents are from Jamaica vs. a white woman from the Midwest. They have this thing in common and yet it’s completely uncommon when they share it because they arrived by different means and analyse and look at the world in different ways…even when they’re in bed together being interviewed, or talking about their family, or dissecting Victorian poetry.

If you could change one thing about theatre, what would it be?
In America, I wish there was more experimenting with not only form but content. I feel like that happens in these ‘special segregated’ performing arts spaces. But you don’t really see an experimental play on Broadway or a puppet show or something about #blacklivesmatter. It’s not only racial bias but a class/cultural bias which can be stifling.

What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
Watch a lot of movies, read a lot of books, read some philosophy, study religion. Come to the laptop with something on your mind. Write with a sense of urgency and passion. I remember writing a one-act play in an afternoon and I was crying through most of it because I was furious and enraged at the world. I read an article about sterilisation clinics in the US that target blacks and Latinos and pay them a few hundred dollars to get sterilised. I did some basic research and was so upset that I just started writing. I couldn’t help it. It needed to be written. My fingers almost broke the keys.

What else are you working on?
I’m also a TV staff writer on a CBS political satire going up in the summer that’s titled BrainDead. I continue to freelance pitch to different magazines for the next story while applying for theatres grants, and keeping my fingers crossed.

Don’t Smoke In Bed plays at Finborough Theatre until March 22. For more information, visit: www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

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