Personable, powerful, and pulsating with ideas. Anghus Houvouras is displaying his playwright skills at the DOWNTOWN URBAN ARTS FESTIVAL next month.
AI caught up with Anghus for a quick rap-session on his views and works.
Tell us about yourself as an artist.
I used to be extremely skeptical of the word ‘artist’. At one point in my life i found it pretentious to apply that label to yourself, but i think it was actually because i didn’t understand what being an artist was. I started writing and had some success, but a lot of my motivation and inspiration came from seeking success and validation. The work wasn’t coming for a place of artistry. It’s not to say that all the work was bad, but it was lacking something. It took me about 10 years to figure out the voices in my head and what they were trying to say. I stopped writing and i started listening, and that’s when i think i transitioned from a guy who makes stuff to someone pursuing artistic endeavors.
I think if you look at my body of work, there are a few themes that consistently emerge. First is a fascination with society and our perpetual hypocrisy. How no one ever thinks of themselves of the villain or will take even a fraction of responsibility for the horrors happening in the world around us. We are a species obsessed with self and have created this amazing, opulent society that is a living visage to our narcisissm. We create institutions to bring structure to our beliefs and then forego any sense of responsibilty for the terrors they unleash upon the world. I suppose that’s a very verbose way of saying I enjoy exploring the cracks and fissures in the foundations of everything we hold dear. These dark areas are where i find inspiration and its where the best characters are usually hiding.
SATURDAY, APRIL 21 @ 8:00 PM
A CIVILIZED WORLD BY ANGHUS HOUVOURAS
An opioid addict is sentenced to death in the near future where being an unproductive member of society is a capital offense. The play centers on the condemned, Eleanor Reed, and her final conversation with Andrew Goodman, a life long government shill tasked with explaining the value of her sacrifice.
Also on the program: HELP ME GET OVER YOU BY ROLLIN JEWETT
Where did you get the idea – the inspiration – for the play?
I’ve always been disturbed by how comfortable we, as a society, are with the suffering of others, so long as it doesn’t impact our day to day lives. You can walk down the street and pass a dozen homeless people, many of whom probably suffer from mental illness, and it won’t even register. Or we can sit back and hear ghastly statistics of the number of innocent people killed by a drone strike and it doesn’t even register as upsetting. Most people put more thought into their daily lunch order than the plight of the disenfranchised. I find that equally disturbing and fascinating. At some point in our lives we accept that human suffering is ultimately tolerable as long as it isn’t happening to us.
Then i started thinking about the divide between those living in polite society and those who are deemed as ‘uncivilized’, i.e. anyone we are comfortable with being abused and destroyed as long as it doesn’t interfere with the trappings of a civilized world. I wanted to see these horrors play out in a very simple way; A conversation between someone whose job involves invoking death sentences and someone who has just been sentenced to die. How would it work? What it would be like being told you no longer have a place in this world. That your life holds almost no meaning. And it all kind of started flowing from there.
For the characters, I was inspired by some of the circumstances around places i’ve lived in recent years. I went to college at Marshall University in Huntington, WV which has the highest rate of opioid addicts in the nation. From there i moved to Wilmington, NC which also ranks in the top five nationally for opioid abuse. The idea of making the unproductive member of society an opioid addict felt perfect. And her punishment isn’t based on being an opioid addict, it’s that she’s stealing people’s medication. In my near-future dystopian scenario, you can be addicted to opioids, you just can’t steal them. Much like today, we’re fine with addiction so long as its done through a Doctor’s office and a prescription pad. You can be strung out as you want, as long as its done legally. God bless America.
Futuristic? Are you a sci-fi fan or
Absolutely a sci-fi fan. There’s a lot of A Civilized World that feels rooted in Orwell and Huxley. The idea that someone can be deemed as an unproductive member of society and be sentenced to death felt like a good, dystopian sci-fi premise.
The longer i developed it the more it felt like it was something from a very plausible, very near future. We already live in a world where the disenfranchised are cast off. Where we watch people die needlessly and do nothing to help. We watch kids getting gunned down in schools and nothing changes. We are ambivalent about suffering so long as we are spared the impact. The idea that one day we could begin to push these pour souls off the edge rather than wait for them to step off themselves doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch.
What are your hopes for this play … and goals in general?
I hope the play makes an impact on people. That at the end you have to swallow a little sadness and realize that at times in are life, we are both characters in the play. There are days where we are the young, idealistic person who believes things can change for the better. And there are times when we grow older and become more accustomed to how the world works, and we become less empathetic to those in need and more tolerant of terrible things being done and become comfortably complicit. And it’s as true of me as anyone else. I am the vapid, self-absorbed consumer who understands that every day people suffer and die because of my ignorance, my tolerance and my inability to find the strength to be better to my fellow man.
There are brutal truths in this story and i hope audiences walk away with a little more perspective.
For me, the goal is always the same; continue writing honest work, find cool people to collaborate with and find an opportunities to get the work out there for people to see. I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with the Downtown Urban Arts Festival twice now and a number of other festivals who have showcased my work. There’s no better motivator for creativity than finding people who appreciate the stories you’re trying to tell. I had my first festival showcase at DUAF in 2016 and it has led to a number of other opportunities.
Any ideas for a full length play?
I’ve been working on a full-length play called Beard, about an actor trying to rehabilitate his career after being outed as gay at a time when it was a career death sentence. His plan involves getting an actress pregnant to quell rumors of his homosexuality. It’s a very intimate story about someone so obsessed with what other people think of him that he’s willing to forego his personal happiness to maintain a certain public image. As their relationship develops, she becomes intent on helping him become honest about who he is, but the harder she pulls the further into the closet he recedes. It plays with similar themes in A Civilized World, the examination of how we define ourselves in a society and the pressures of living within certain boundaries of acceptance and the lies we tell ourselves to maintain our sanity.
I’m hell-bent on getting A Civilized World onto more stages. I think the story is ridiculously relevant today and brings something new to the conversation.
I’ve also been meddling in a lot of different mediums lately. I have a novel that should be out later this year called The Fence Mender. I haven’t made a film in a few years, so i’m looking at dusting off the cameras and filming something soon. I’m one of these horribly obsessive creative types. There’s always an idea bouncing around my head and i don’t feel right until I find the best medium for it and get it done.