More Life for Angels in America (Howlround)

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“More Life” is the rallying cry of Prior Walter at the close of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. If a revival is the essence of “more life” for a play, then as the National Theatrein London prepares to “fly” these Angels back to Broadway for the first time in twenty-five years, it seems a fitting point to reflect on the act of revival, theatrical history, and the art of theatrical progress.

My Latest piece on Angels in America  on Howlround

‘More Life’ Angels in America flies back to Broadway

Tonight, the curtain will rise in the Walter Kerr theatre, and Angels in America will be back on Broadway for the first time in over 20 years.
I have a more historical, academic post planned for opening night. And it feels right to somehow mark the day on this blog.  But for the moment when Angels ‘flies’ again on Broadway I thought I’d do something a little more ‘from the heart’.

And that’s exactly where I feel it. I think about the play starting performances again tonight, I think about this production getting ‘more life’ and I feel that surge in my chest. Of love, of pride of some kind of aching need to be there and see it myself. And a sense of excitement for all those about to see it. To experience the play for the first time. Or to experience this production.  
(For anyone interested I’m going in June. So, my own thoughts on the transfer will have to wait a while.)

I was asked last weekend ‘So why do you love Angels in America so much anyway?’ To answer that question is to try and articulate decades of work, and whatever weird personal connection some girl from Cardiff, born around the same time the play started being written feels. The honest answer is: I have no reason to feel so personally connected to this play. I am not from New York, I was not affected directly by Reagan or AIDS, I have never had an Angel crash through my ceiling. And yet I feel this play in my very soul.
And surely that is answer to why this play is so special.
As for the logistics of all that. This long drawn out affair of the heart with a 7-hour epic theatre piece. As several posts on this blog attest. 

There are some works that you find, or perhaps find you at the moments you need them most. Or because you need them to find you. I can’t picture what my life would be without Angels. And don’t get me wrong on some days I curse this play and everything in it for the life course it put me on. But without it I wouldn’t be who I am.

And perhaps that sounds overly dramatic. And maybe it is. Maybe it is my combination of ex-ex Drag Queen and Louis-ness coming to the fore (and who could blame me, with decades of this play entwined with my consciousness). But there’s so much this play has brought me. So much it has taught me.

I have such love for these characters. I admire Prior for his resilience in the face of the worst moments. And I revel in his humour in those moments. My heart breaks for Harper and soars as she flies (literally) away from everything that broke her and built her up again. I smile at ‘Mother Pitt’ as she struggles and triumphs in a world that flies against everything she believed. I take delight in cheering on Ethel. I want to dance with the Prior-Priors. I want to crash through ceilings like the Angel. I will Joe every time to just get it together enough, to see some sense. I want to be Belize. I even manage to every time, almost, almost forgive Roy, but instead have political fires lit in rage at all he stands for. And Louis, dear Louis, I know I’d struggle not to do the same.  



And as a piece of theatre, little else, even in all these years quite touches it. A play that you could do in a black box, with 8 actors and some chairs and have the same impact. But that also lends itself to soaring spectacle. “Theatrical Magic” is a term that’s thrown around too easily. But Angels has it. It’s in Kushner’s words, but also the space between the words he leaves for those theatrical teams to do what they do best. You can close your eyes and listen to the politics manifested through poetry. Or you can open them and see is made real-yet-fantastical through the most theatrical of magic.
And as that curtain rises tonight that’s what will happen. I’ve written 1000s of words, and have 1000s more (I’d better, I signed a book contract to that end). But in this production the actors could create that magic in a black box. In all the years of looking at this play some of them make things out of the words I never imagined were there (yeah that’s you McArdle). And some just make it so much their own that it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing it again (looking at you Gough) and some you could watch forever (Ms. Brown). All could tell the stories of these characters with not much more than themselves. But what they are given is a gift of a production. Built again from the ground up, this production seems to throw away what has gone before in the best possible way. And Marianne Elliott creates magic out of Kushner’s Epic. In it the ‘wires show’ as Kushner intended, but it’s at once utterly fantastical, theatrical magic, but with a raw human honesty at it’s core. In short it has heart and soul which is pulled from the play onto the stage.  



Decades steeped in this play make me one of it’s harshest critiques. And this production made me feel I’d seen it again new. Personally, it renewed my faith in my own work, and on a highly personal level myself. This play is so personally important to me, and I felt like this production gave me that back.
On a professional, or simply human level, I can’t wait for New York to see that.
My work, as this blog, everything I’ve written and everything I will write about the play says, is not about the work in isolation. It’s about what it has meant to those who performed in it, worked on it and of course saw it. From those first workshops, through Broadway, through London, through the HBO version, through 1000s of college productions and regional theatres, all the way back to London and now tonight back to Broadway.  

Tonight, Angels flies again on Broadway, and a little piece of my heart is with a play that reached out of nowhere and took the course of my life with it. And I sit (well sleep by the time it opens) 1000s of miles away wishing this really special production, with such a special company ‘More Life’.

‘More Life’ Angels in America flies back to Broadway

Tonight, the curtain will rise in the Walter Kerr theatre, and Angels in America will be back on Broadway for the first time in over 20 years.
I have a more historical, academic post planned for opening night. And it feels right to somehow mark the day on this blog.  But for the moment when Angels ‘flies’ again on Broadway I thought I’d do something a little more ‘from the heart’.

And that’s exactly where I feel it. I think about the play starting performances again tonight, I think about this production getting ‘more life’ and I feel that surge in my chest. Of love, of pride of some kind of aching need to be there and see it myself. And a sense of excitement for all those about to see it. To experience the play for the first time. Or to experience this production.  
(For anyone interested I’m going in June. So, my own thoughts on the transfer will have to wait a while.)

I was asked last weekend ‘So why do you love Angels in America so much anyway?’ To answer that question is to try and articulate decades of work, and whatever weird personal connection some girl from Cardiff, born around the same time the play started being written feels. The honest answer is: I have no reason to feel so personally connected to this play. I am not from New York, I was not affected directly by Reagan or AIDS, I have never had an Angel crash through my ceiling. And yet I feel this play in my very soul.
And surely that is answer to why this play is so special.
As for the logistics of all that. This long drawn out affair of the heart with a 7-hour epic theatre piece. As several posts on this blog attest. 

There are some works that you find, or perhaps find you at the moments you need them most. Or because you need them to find you. I can’t picture what my life would be without Angels. And don’t get me wrong on some days I curse this play and everything in it for the life course it put me on. But without it I wouldn’t be who I am.

And perhaps that sounds overly dramatic. And maybe it is. Maybe it is my combination of ex-ex Drag Queen and Louis-ness coming to the fore (and who could blame me, with decades of this play entwined with my consciousness). But there’s so much this play has brought me. So much it has taught me.

I have such love for these characters. I admire Prior for his resilience in the face of the worst moments. And I revel in his humour in those moments. My heart breaks for Harper and soars as she flies (literally) away from everything that broke her and built her up again. I smile at ‘Mother Pitt’ as she struggles and triumphs in a world that flies against everything she believed. I take delight in cheering on Ethel. I want to dance with the Prior-Priors. I want to crash through ceilings like the Angel. I will Joe every time to just get it together enough, to see some sense. I want to be Belize. I even manage to every time, almost, almost forgive Roy, but instead have political fires lit in rage at all he stands for. And Louis, dear Louis, I know I’d struggle not to do the same.  



And as a piece of theatre, little else, even in all these years quite touches it. A play that you could do in a black box, with 8 actors and some chairs and have the same impact. But that also lends itself to soaring spectacle. “Theatrical Magic” is a term that’s thrown around too easily. But Angels has it. It’s in Kushner’s words, but also the space between the words he leaves for those theatrical teams to do what they do best. You can close your eyes and listen to the politics manifested through poetry. Or you can open them and see is made real-yet-fantastical through the most theatrical of magic.
And as that curtain rises tonight that’s what will happen. I’ve written 1000s of words, and have 1000s more (I’d better, I signed a book contract to that end). But in this production the actors could create that magic in a black box. In all the years of looking at this play some of them make things out of the words I never imagined were there (yeah that’s you McArdle). And some just make it so much their own that it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing it again (looking at you Gough) and some you could watch forever (Ms. Brown). All could tell the stories of these characters with not much more than themselves. But what they are given is a gift of a production. Built again from the ground up, this production seems to throw away what has gone before in the best possible way. And Marianne Elliott creates magic out of Kushner’s Epic. In it the ‘wires show’ as Kushner intended, but it’s at once utterly fantastical, theatrical magic, but with a raw human honesty at it’s core. In short it has heart and soul which is pulled from the play onto the stage.  



Decades steeped in this play make me one of it’s harshest critiques. And this production made me feel I’d seen it again new. Personally, it renewed my faith in my own work, and on a highly personal level myself. This play is so personally important to me, and I felt like this production gave me that back.
On a professional, or simply human level, I can’t wait for New York to see that.
My work, as this blog, everything I’ve written and everything I will write about the play says, is not about the work in isolation. It’s about what it has meant to those who performed in it, worked on it and of course saw it. From those first workshops, through Broadway, through London, through the HBO version, through 1000s of college productions and regional theatres, all the way back to London and now tonight back to Broadway.  

Tonight, Angels flies again on Broadway, and a little piece of my heart is with a play that reached out of nowhere and took the course of my life with it. And I sit (well sleep by the time it opens) 1000s of miles away wishing this really special production, with such a special company ‘More Life’.

Diversity in Welsh Theatre…once again


This piece was written for BBC Cymru’s blog in Welsh and is available here
A lack of diversity in Welsh arts is driving talent away from the country and severely limiting the work we make. But is this lack of diversity part of an underlying issue in Wales where the arts, and access to the arts, is controlled by a narrow inward-looking group afraid of change?
If we take a long hard look at ourselves we know that those working in the arts in Wales still feel like they are made by a narrow group, for a narrow group. Even those who demographically belong to the same group, it’s naïve to say that the white middle class (often male) isn’t still the default for leaders and makers in the arts.

There is much talk of Wales as a ‘cultural centre’ and much bemoaning of the ‘London Centric’ focus of the arts. And yet, anyone seeking a career in the arts in Wales will hear more than once ‘move away’. And even if they aren’t told it directly, for many it will swiftly become the only option. And for those who don’t fit the ‘standard demographic’ this push is greater.
If nothing else this push away from Wales is damaging our artistic output. We already have to fight harder and longer to get our work recognised beyond our own borders; why then are we further limiting ourselves by potentially driving our best and brightest away? Why does this narrow group at the top fear diversity in the literal sense of ‘anyone but them’ making work. And why do they fear so much people different to them?

An honest answer is a selfish need to hold onto power. And a fear or sense of being threatened. But this extends beyond those able to work in the arts. A vital and often overlooked point by those working in the arts is that diversity isn’t just about those working in the arts. It’s about those consuming the arts. Having a diverse group of people working in the arts needs to be symbiotic with those people coming into the building to engage with the work.

It should be a self-fulfilling prophecy- give people art that reflects their world, they will engage with it. But this can only happen if people know that the work is there and if our arts venues are welcoming to everyone. It is not enough to slap a sticker of ‘accessible’ on a building if you’ve installed a wheelchair ramp, accessibility goes far further than that. Accessibility should be replaced with ‘Welcome’ do we actually welcome people outside the small demographic that usually operates in the arts. The honest answer would have to be no.

The art suffers because frankly if you aren’t producing work that reflects society, what or who are you even making it for. Where is- to use an incredibly pretentious phrase- ‘the truth’ in your art if the cycle is so closed. And why on earth should people spend hard earned money, and time consuming it.
Real representation takes time. We have made progress in Wales, we have many women leaders in organisations, arts organisations have a comparative balance of gender across the board in Wales. Could we do with more women directors, playwrights and leading performers? Of course. And lest we forget we are overall talking cis-gender women. Our LGBTQA voices are lacking- because we need to include everyone under that banner. The arts may well be known as a refuge for the community, but that needs to stop being shorthand for ‘Gay Men’. We have a class problem in the arts, despite efforts to include Working Class voices, the loudest voices, and those telling the stories are still predominantly middle class. A handful of specialist companies putting disabled artists on stage quite simply isn’t enough. And neither is one Person of Colour every other production and calling that ‘diverse casting’.

It’s also not enough just to tick these boxes in performance. The audience from these groups must feel they can be a part of that world as well. They have to feel a theatre, or an arts centre is for them, not just ‘them’. This means a space that not only everyone can get to, and use but one they feel welcome in. Why do working class people not want to come to your venue? Why does the local East-Asian community never come to productions? Do transgender people feel comfortable in your spaces? All of these and more are questions every venue needs to answer. And they need to do it by engaging with, and more importantly listening to these groups. 

A lot of Diversity in the Arts talk is done by well- meaning people on the ‘inside’ who feel they should be doing their bit to help those on the outside. The control of the arts in Wales also rests with a small group of people for whom diversity translates as the fearful notion of relinquishing control of the sector. 

There are people in Wales more than ready to bring about change. There are people doing it. But for real change to leadership must also come from the top. Show those asking for change that holding onto control yourselves isn’t more important that an arts scene that is truly for everyone.
The people of wales inside the arts have started to ask for change- not even ask, shout for it. But nobody is listening. Sit around a table with the people this affects, look them in the eye and tell them you are doing all in your power. Better yet let them tell you what you can do better. And then just do it. Unless the arts really are just for the elite group at the top.



National Themes: How Britain’s Subsidized Theatre Helped ‘Angels’ Fly

Despite having “America” in its title, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America owes a fair amount of its early development—and its high early profile—to Britain’s National Theatre. And as its first Broadway revival readies its opening in March, almost exactly 25 years since its original Main Stem run, it seems oddly fitting that this new production also comes from the National Theatre. This seems a fitting point to reflect on the trans-Atlantic theatrical exchange that forms an integral part of the history of this most American of plays, and in so doing reflect on the act of revival, theatrical history, and the art of theatrical progress.

 

Read more at American Theatre 

BREAKING OUT OF THE BOX 4: ‘WALES: A DIVERSE NATION?’

The fourth ‘Breaking out of the Box’ symposium- a series of events to discuss the issue of diversity in Welsh Arts, took place at Theatre Clwyd on 16th February.

The fourth ‘Breaking out of the Box’ symposium- a series of events to discuss the issue of diversity in Welsh Arts, took place at Theatre Clwyd on 16th February. Subtitled ‘Wales: a Diverse Nation?’ An access symposium’ the focus of the event centered on the question of how diverse are we, and what can we do to change things?

 

Read more in my post for Get the Chance