Four books, four touchstones, by director Shane Bosher.
The Normal Heart, by Larry Kramer
Larry Kramer is one of my heroes. He died a few years back, but his life was underpinned by extraordinary courage. A no-bulls*** chronicler of gay experience, he wrote about the really tricky stuff and was often vilified for it. He once said, "I put the truth in writing. That's what I do: I have told the f***ing truth to everyone I have ever met."
I found out who I was through his writing and was inspired by his activism. As a teenager, his play The Normal Heart was on permanent loan from Hamilton Public Library. It was me, I always had it out. The play charts his own lived experience establishing and being thrown out of Gay Men's Health Crisis, an advocacy and support organisation set up at the beginning of the HIV/Aids crisis. The play deftly walks the tightrope between the personal and the political, as its hero fights to get his community to wake up. It is incendiary, necessary writing. About 10 years ago, I got to see a revival of the play in New York. Ever the activist, he would hang outside the theatre at the end, thrusting fliers into audience members hands detailing government inaction on HIV/Aids. I emerged from the theatre an absolute blubbery mess. He looked at me and said "Good," thrust a flier in my hand and walked away. Everything about the encounter – its brevity, its non-compromising punch - felt perfect.
There is a lot of Larry's fight which has inspired the journey of the play I'm currently working on, Everything After. Its central character, Nick, is a lot like Larry. Fiercely intelligent, alive with contradiction, fuelled by passion, backed by history. The rainbow community owes a lot to people like Larry, who gave themselves permission to be Cassandra, shouting atop the mountain.
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
I'm an absolute sucker for structure. For me, it's not just about the story you're telling, but how you are telling it. Hanya Yanagihara's beautiful novel follows four men from college through to middle-age, with narrative perspectives shifting throughout, jumping from third-person to first-person. One of the things that I love about her writing is that even though time is moving ever forward, you always feel like the events are playing out in the current moment. It talks about the complexities of love and compassion and how you move through and survive trauma, or don't. A friend called it grief porn, but I prefer to think of it as melodic drama. It's almost operatic in tone and, like Larry Kramer, doesn't shy away from talking about the tricky stuff. A friend of mine warned me not to read the last 100 pages in public. Best advice I ever got.
Simon Stephens: A Working Diary, by Simon Stephens
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Simon Stephens is an immensely imaginative playwright who has written some of the best plays of the 21st century, among them The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Through daily diary entries, he opens up about his creative process, his unstoppable passion for football and his love of being a dad and husband. You're let into his thought processes, his fears, his mini-triumphs. It's wonderfully honest and far-reaching and for me, reminds me that creating art isn't ever easy. Great writing is forged through testing, trial and error, blunder and design. He also wrapped language around an idea that I'd always known but had struggled to articulate: Theatre's great job is to tell audiences that they are not alone. It's an idea that I now carry with me into my work on a daily basis.
Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
Oh gosh, how I loved this book. So much of the gay experience speaks to coming of age, but there's bugger all about everything that happens after. We don't talk about ageing or invisibility, that's off the table. This gleeful tome absolutely nails the relationship between rejection and possibility, innocence and wisdom. It won all of the prizes and that's because it is all of the wonderful.
Shane Bosher is the writer and director of the Adam Award-winning play Everything After, which premieres at Rangatira, Q Theatre, running July 2-18.