Lenora Inez Brown is a freelance dramaturg and the Head of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at The Theatre School at DePaul University. As "Ten Square's" dramaturg, she posed a few questions to playwright Shepsu Aakhu to gain a sense of how he set about to create the play's dystopian world.
Many futuristic or dystopian worlds often respond to major questions within the current society. What prompted this story for you?
SA: The reparations conversations in the Black community, and how they're hyper- focused on money, caught up in money fantasies like we do with the lottery.
How does, if at all, the recent apology from the US government impact this story?
SA: It feeds the plausibility of it. The country has shown so much movement in my lifetime. It just supports the idea that anything is possible.
This story is set in the future and in an area that was initially considered to be the ideal place. Are there similar places like this in the real world? What triggers their evolution?
SA: America itself is an enormous social experiment. I don't know how idyllic it is for anyone except a very small minority of the population, but it is certainly a daring experiment. For some- the experiment has worked well, for others- not. Ten Square is wrapped up in the potential of America, both positive and negative. I suspect it is the same with most republics, so much potential both positive and negative. France, England, Liberia, Israel, Ghana, all come to mind as similar places with respect to potential.
What else did you consider when creating this fictional world?
It was important to me for this world to be plausible. Not just plausible, but tangible. In storytelling there is this concept called "the suspension of disbelief". This tendency -"not" to believe -can be a small obstacle, or a large one. I wanted it to be as small as possible, so I drew on real world events. The wall is mostly associated with Berlin, but there has also been a lot of discussion of "walling in" the Palestinians in Israel, or the U.S. "walling out" the Illegal aliens migrating from Central America.
The behavior of the state was patterned after Cuba and it's cold War isolation from much of the west. Particularly interesting to me was the propaganda battle between Cuba and the U.S. -- much of which was waged over radio airwaves. I also drew from war propaganda in general- such as the leaflet drops in Iraq and Iran during the war on Terror.
Do any other contemporary political situations influence this play?
Yes. There is the ample perspective provided by the American Indian reservations (Or Native American if you prefer). This relationship between the greater U.S. government and these little pockets of Sovereignty -- ripe with so much contradiction and conflict of interest was fascinating to me. I am intrigued by the idea that the U.S. government surrenders the rule of Constitution law on a reservation and allows the "locals" to self govern, but these local laws cannot extent beyond the reservation itself. So in many places the effect of this sovereignty is the encouragement of the isolation of it residents. But these communities rarely have the resources to take care of their own citizens, so what results is this internal rot of poverty, poor education, and despair. The residents will lose much of their identity and self-determination if they leave the reservation, but if they stay they are relegated to places with few resources, and little ability to provide for their family's basic needs.
What are your thoughts on Utopian communities?
SA: Nice idea...Don't know that they ever really work. The thing that makes people so special is that we have the ability to both perceive and define our experiences. I don't know that you can ever get an experience to be perceived and defined the same way by everyone.
What draws you to create for the theatre?
SA: Storytelling is deep in my family tradition. I am drawn to stories, but I am also drawn to art that one can create with others. Theater and music are the best collaborations I have ever experienced.
What does this piece offer in terms of understanding community?
SA: Some things I have to leave for the audience. Sometimes people ask: "What does the play have to say?" For me I am always fascinated with the question: "What does the audience have to say?" Most of how the play speaks to an audience is defined by what the audience brings into the theatre with them. No matter what your experiences with community, the play will have resonance. What that resonance is can only be defined by what the audience comes to the play with. So, what the play offers differs from person to person. I can only discuss what it offers to me, and frankly I think that's the least interesting view.
Acting Afrikan Centered Theatre Awards Carla Stillwell Chris T Fascia Ghost of Atwood Review Heather Ireland Kevin Douglas Kosi Dasa Lydia Diamond Lydia R. Diamond Mignon McPherson Nance Radical Hearsay Review Shepsu Aakhu Stage Black Ten Square The Inside Writing