Kate Davey (KD): One of the things that I was interested to know was what intrigued you about this topic and what inspired you to write about this?
Sean Christopher Lewis (SCL): Basically, I started writing it right around the time that Dave Eggers’s book came out, “What Is the What” and at the same time ’s book had just come out and Decent Donation had come out and there had been a big article in The New York Times about it.
It just seemed that suddenly that there was a rush of materials and specifically artistic materials about the subject matter. I just thought there was something interesting and fascinating about that part of it—about not only our attraction to tragedy and to genocide, our obvious human interest in it, but then the marketing and merchandising of that. Like the necessity of it becoming art, but also what does that mean or entail in a larger scope? What happens when it starts really becoming a massive marketed thing?
KD: The photographer [in The Aperture] is interested in supporting the greater good and she thinks she’s doing that [even though she’s hurting the former child soldier she is photographing] so how do you think that everything that you just spoke about–Hollywood’s interpretation of child soldiers–impacts the greater good? Or do you think it does?
SCL: It’s such a massive topic and so incredibly important. And just child soldiers in general, I think when you talk about it people assume or go towards Africa when they think of child soldiers, but it’s such a more prevalent problem than that. I mean it’s huge in Africa, but it’s not isolated to Africa.
I think it’s something that really does need exposure and consistent exposure because I think we’re in such a stimulus-based culture it’s really easy to forget about things. So I think the exposure level is really great.
I think sometimes what I get worried about or frustrated with … is as a consuming public we like things to be wrapped up. You know when we go to a movie we want it to end in a way we feel fulfilled … The problem is this is a story that doesn’t have an ending right now and it’s really difficult and hard. What I worry about if you make the art about such a topic easy to deal with and easy to digest then I feel like it doesn’t actually end up doing what I think the imagine the artists are hoping it to do, which is to, I think, create some level of action and or understanding about the problem … Great art can really activate people to make change, but it’s hard to make great art.
KD: Is that why you set up the play the way you did? Not in chronological order?
SCL: It jumps around a good amount … Part of it was that … it was so hard for me to understand and I find for audiences to understand at times because we don’t have the same connection of what’s going on in Africa. It’s hard for us to understand the extent to how violent and insane the action is there of people being taken at night and the night commuting of children going across towns just trying to find some rest. And the idea of children running around with machine guns and rocket launchers—this is insane–in the United States this is crazy. So part of it jumping around was putting people in the situation where they could see how we don’t fully understand it because it’s absurd here. The idea of some kids running around Baltimore with rocket launcher and taking over buses and becoming a real threat to a city or state government is not a possibility here … I wanted to make something that you watched and experienced, but you experienced not by being told this is what’s going on over there … I wanted people to see it happen.
KD: What is your ideal hope for your plays? Greater activism in child soldiers? Greater awareness?
SCL: I think the awareness leads to the activism … the conversations we’ve been having with the audience after the play have been great … It’s hard to watch horrible things happen to people that you don’t think deserve it, but that’s what’s happening. What I’ve been wrestling with is getting it to the audiences. It’s a hard sell … what I’ve been doing is trying to connect with groups like Child Soldier Relief to try to move the play even out of the theaters to get them to audiences that will interact … I want conversations to happen.