Angels in America

November 13-15 & 20-22, 2003

written by Tony Kushner
directed by Stephanie Burlington

Weber Theatre, Watson Fine Arts

Q&A with director Stephanie Burlington ’97, assistant professor of theatre

Why do you want to direct Angels in America?

In 1985 my favorite music teacher from grade school died, Mr. Craig Jacobsin. My dad took my younger brother and me to his funeral, and as we drove to the service we remembered all that we had loved about him; Mr. Jacobsin was filled with bouncing energy that seemed to never end, with a smile that never faded and a consistently worn bright red wool sweater. Mr. Jacobsin died of cancer, we were told, but not really, that is just what people were told to say. He really had a disease that no one knew much about. What was very sad, our dad told us, was that Mr. Jacobsin’s parents weren’t going to be at the funeral because they had disowned their son for being gay and living with another man. I remember feeling like my dad was trusting me with important information and I tried to make sense of it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything or being anything that would make my parents not love me anymore. I remember feeling like it was very important that people knew how wonderful and loving Mr. Jacobsin was and how sad it was that his parents weren’t there for him when he died.

That was my introduction to AIDS. In the following years, several other family friends from my church were diagnosed and then died from AIDS. As I grew up and became more involved in the theatre department at high school and AIDS education, I realized the value of reaching people through the theatre to help fight discrimination for all people living with AIDS.

Talk about your concept for this play.

I began looking for plays that dealt with these issues, and that year Angels in America went to Broadway. I saw the New York City production in the spring of 1993, the same weekend that the gay Olympics were being held. The theatre was filled with people who were struggling to find ways to process the grief, mourning, and the frustration we had experienced for the ten years prior. Experiencing the play with this group of people in that time and place was a religious event for me. The characters in Angels in America reached out to us and validated our lives with humor, honesty and sometimes-painful storytelling. It felt as though the play unified us in our communal fight acting against AIDS and discrimination. It was a call to duty. I left Angels in America knowing I was a different person and wanting to tell its story to as many people as possible. It’s been 10 years since then, and now I have my chance to share Tony Kushner’s story with the community here at Wheaton. Angels in America has much to say and it takes much space to hear it. Working with Jane Stein and Jeff Mailhott on the design, we decided that the best way to tell this story was as simply as possible. The stage is bare, with minimal props and furniture coming on and off stage when necessary.

What do you want the audience to walk away with?

Angels in America, A Gay Fantasia on National Themes is about AIDS and despair, it is about being gay in America, it is about love, hope and survival. It is about change. No matter who sees this play, the story this play tells is about all of us and our constant human struggle to be heard and understood, no matter who you are—straight/gay, black/white, religious or not, political or not. I want this play to begin and/or continue the discussion here at Wheaton about what we can do as a community to fight against all types of discrimination and to not be afraid of the challenge this will bring. We must begin somewhere, whether it is with a poster campaign, a heated classroom debate, or a play.