The Playwright’s Room: Justin Aaron Halle
BY Robbie Armstrong, March 29, 2021
This week, Playwriting student Justin Aaron Halle sat down with us in The Playwright’s Room. Halle is a New York based performer and playwright. A graduate of NYU Tisch’s Experimental Theater Wing, Halle has performed at venues including La MaMa ETC, the Bowery Electric, and Joe’s Pub. Halle’s playwriting has been produced Off Broadway at the Red Bull Theater, and off-West End at London’s Jermyn Street Theater. Halle's play Delaware, Come Home is featured in the Best of Red Bull Theater’s Short New Play Festival collection.
Tell me about your first time in Theatre.
Justin Aaron Halle: The first theatre production I was involved in was a production of Aladdin. I was six years old, I played the Magic Carpet, and I had no lines. There was a scene where other characters had to ride the magic carpet and I vividly remember the rehearsal where we had to figure out how to make it look like they were sitting on a six year old kid.
As an actor, what made you transition?
JAH: I quickly realized that what I liked about Theatre was the making of it. I loved to act, but I hated auditions so much. I didn’t like walking into an audition room and trying to be the thing they needed. I would sometimes see the show that I had auditioned for (and not been cast) and think, I could do that, I could make that piece of theatre and make it better. I started to perform in drag and then I started to write material for myself in drag.
What play did you submit to Columbia?
JAH: I submitted Family Bondage and it was the first play I didn’t want to put in a drawer. It’s about a mother in suburbia who locks herself in her house because of her guilt over her missing son. She creates this alternative reality in her home and goes viral on the internet. It’s a BDSM play but also a family play. I’m proud of this play because I feel like I somehow managed to balance stupidity with drama. I also care about the characters in this weird play. The main character can be played either by a cis woman or a drag queen. I’d love to put this play up and figure out who would do it better. I love putting drag into serious theatre where drag is not used as a punch line.
What kind of artwork and experiences influence your work?
JAH: The work of Charles Ludlum is wonderful. He was a drag artist in New York. I like his plays a lot but I’m more interested in his essays and thoughts on theatre. He talks about there being no original plays and how theatre in itself is drag. He would take and borrow everything and then put them in his plays. It was just a big mess of elements that he loved. I also really enjoy Maria Irene Fornes because her plays are dreamy, genuine, and structured. I struggle with that because I’m a sarcastic little bitch all the time. Her works are truthful and emotional without trying to pander to the audience.
What’s a lesson you’ve learned from your time at Columbia so far?
JAH: I heard a quote from [Professor] Anne Bogart that was, “Making good theatre is a kid being devious and naughty in the basement. It’s having the best time, but knowing you’re doing something you shouldn’t do.” I love that idea and that’s the type of theatre that I love to watch. I really like Columbia’s emphasis on collaboration and what Anne said reminded me of that idea.
I’d love to hear more about your play Doc & Dora.
JAH: That was my senior thesis in undergrad. It was loosely inspired by Dora: A Headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch. It’s an adolescent retelling of the Freud Dora study. I loved the energy of it. It’s emotional, non-linear, and punk. I loved the idea that Freud wrote this whole book about female hysteria but what if that teenage girl was just fucking with him the entire time. I wrote a character in the play named Gorgeous W. Bush and I still think that’s the best character name I’ve ever come up with.
What is one of your favorite theatrical experiences?
JAH: I saw Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf on Broadway a while back with Tracy Letts in it. It’s a play that really messes stuff up, but it feels like real people on the stage. Their insanity is so meaningful because it’s so real.
What are you working on next?
JAH: I’m starting to get into a new play. I’ve been interested in doing a play about cults, but I didn’t know how to do that until I read The Faggots and their Friends Between Revolution by Larry Mitchell. I read that book and thought, "What if there was a queer cult interested in an overthrow of society."