When Miami native Aurin Squire was a child during the 1980s, people would gather at his house for food and to watch a Michael Jackson video via a VCR.
Afterward, the Jackson fans would discuss the video, and try to mimic the star’s moves and style of singing.
This childhood memory inspired Squire, an award-winning playwright, to pen a semi-autobiographical piece titled “Defacing Michael Jackson.”
Soon, that play will receive its debut production. Miami New Drama will present the world premiere. Thursday, March 9 and Friday, March 10 are preview nights, and then the show opens to the public and continues through Sunday, April 2 at the company’s home, the Colony Theatre on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.
“Defacing Michael Jackson” will mark the fourth collaboration between Squire and Miami New Drama. Previously, they partnered for the world premiere productions of “Confessions of a Cocaine Cowboy” in 2019, “Seven Deadly Sins” in 2020, and “A Wonderful World” in 2022.
“Defacing Michael Jackson” is a memory play that Squire wrote more than a decade ago. The plays is not specifically about the late pop star.
Audiences “will never see Michael, but they’ll always know he’s present,” said the production’s director, Shaun Patrick Tubbs. After all, Jackson is the person who brings the play’s characters together. In addition, music in the play may remind folks of Jackson’s songs.
“The thought of him is always present,” Tubbs said.
Squire has set his piece in Opa-locka, where a group of Black teenagers create their own Michael Jackson fan club in 1984. But when a white family moves to the neighborhood and their son tries to join the club, the community finds its rules challenged. Further, everyone’s relationships start to crumble.
“Defacing Michael Jackson” is a dark comedy about the loss of innocence, sexual identity, hero worship, American identity, racism, colorism, and self-worth.
While most of the play takes place during 1984, Squire has set part of his piece in 2009, which is when the play ends.
“Despite what they went through they made it to 2009 and they grew, they learned,” Tubbs said about the characters. “It’s a survival play, it’s not to be taken lightly.”
“It is deeply moving (and) spectacular with masterful storytelling,” said Artistic Director Michel Hausmann. “It’s such a beautiful coming-of-age story. We are extremely proud to be doing the world premiere of this play and continue our commitment to Aurin as an artist.”
Squire said he is happy that people will finally have the chance to see “Defacing Michael Jackson.”
“It’s fantastic that people will get to see a full production of it,” he said. “I hope that people of all races and backgrounds will see some part of themselves in this story, in these characters.”
Squire’s inspiration came around 2004, when he interned with New Dramatists. Specifically, the internship included an exercise during which participants wrote about a childhood ritual that formed a community. Based on that exercise, Squire wrote a 20-minute one-act play which today is a full-length piece titled “Defacing Michael Jackson.”
Squire said the play helped him get into Julliard and made him more known in television and film. But, at least at first, he did not aggressively seek live theater productions of the play.
“I just thought maybe it was to serve a purpose to open other doors, which it did,” Squire said.
Still, the piece enjoyed success on the stage. For instance, the play won an award at a Samuel French festival. And following Jackson’s death in 2009, Squire decided to expand “Defacing Michael Jackson” into a full-length play.
After the piece captured Hausmann’s attention, he reached out to Tubbs, who took on the directing assignment. At the time, Tubbs wasn't familiar with the play. However, the die-hard Jackson fan saw himself in the characters.
“I felt like I fit into the story,” he said. He added that the play affected him, in part, because he experienced things similar to what the characters endure. For example, Tubbs said while he loves Jackson, he felt abandoned by the popstar after Jackson changed his physical appearance.
Tubbs predicted that audiences will also see themselves in the play’s world. If he had to describe “Defacing Michael Jackson” he would refer to it as a “dramedy,” a piece that combines elements of comedy and drama.
As for the play’s timeliness, Tubbs said that the piece is relevant to today in many ways. From racism to sexual identity and hero worship, “Defacing Michael Jackson” speaks to the present. It is a memory play that shows us “how much we’ve gone through and how much we continue to go through,” the director said.
What is his directorial approach for this production? Tubbs said that he has left a space onstage that could stand for “anything and everything.” And he wants audience members to “fill it in with their own story.”
Tubbs said that he feels the cast, comprised of a “very generous group of actors” is ready to open the play.
“Their main goal is to ensure they’re telling the story as authentically as possible, which means staying present in the moment,” Tubbs said.
In addition to praising the actors, the director complimented Miami New Drama.
“Miami New Drama has been great,” he said. “Michel is fantastic.”
For instance, Tubbs noted that Hausmann entered the rehearsal room many times to offer support.
"(The company) is just full of individuals who want to make good, impactful theater,” Tubbs said.
Squire also heaped praise on Miami New Drama.
“It’s great to have a home theater that understands where I’m from,” he said.
The world premiere production of “Defacing Michael Jackson” opens on Thursday, March 9 and runs through Sunday, April 2 at Miami New Drama’s resident theater, the Colony, located at 1040 Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. Call (305) 674-1040 or miaminewdrama.org.