Tony Kushner’s Impact on Choate Theater

Photo courtesy of The Telegraph

Tony Kushner is a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, most famous for Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.

October has been an eventful time for the Arts Department at Choate. This bustling excitement has been on going for the past two weeks, with the various plays put on stage from both Choate students and various outside actors. However, the biggest event of all was on October 25: Tony Kushner’s visit to Choate.

Mr. Kushner is a renowned playwright, whose works have won countless awards and recognition from the theatre and literary fields. His play, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, has won him the prestigious Pulitzer Award for Drama in the year 1993 and will be brought to the Broadway stage for the second time this spring. Kushner’s visit and sessions here at Choate were not only exciting for students but also the faculty who made it possible. Ms. Kate Doak, the Director of the fall production of Kushner’s The Illusion, said, “I have been a fan of his since my high school years. I realized that both Alysoun Kegel and I chose to direct his plays this fall. We realized we were doing a mini season of Mr. Tony Kushner, so I begged and pleaded with the school to have him here. Everyone at the school banded together to have him come.” Over the summer, the funding that made this all possible was arranged t by Ms. Ellen Devine and Ms. Kalya Yannatos. Ms. Doak added, “I just thought it was an amazing opportunity for students to meet him. He is someone who is very generous with his time; he will really look and you and talk to you. It was great for students to meet someone on the top of their respective career path. He has found such great success as a playwright and as a screenwriter.” This was very rare because most people whose works are remarked as “great” are no longer alive. Ms. Doak remarked, “He really clarified my understanding of the play, and as the director, that was very important for me.”

While at Choate, Mr. Tony Kushner hosted three student sessions. One for students involved with the fall productions of The Illusion and Brundibar, the second for students directing the Fringe Festival as well as students who take playwriting as an elective, and the third was directed towards English students and teachers. Ethan Luk ’20, who plays the character The Amanuensis in The Illusion, attended one of his sessions. Luk  said,“As a person who loves theater, it was an amazing opportunity to meet the master behind the words and the character I was portraying, especially meeting one of the most influential living playwrights of our time.” He added, “I expected him to be super intellectual, godlike, and perfect, but the person I encountered was so normal. He is a normal man who is incredibly devoted to his craft and is so passionate about sharing his passion to others. As a young artist, it was just so inspiring to see someone who has achieved that much, to be so driven.” Luk’s perception of Mr. Tony Kushner was echoed throughout every student’s sentiment.

Liam Podos ’20, who portrays Matamore in The Illusion, remembered how Kushner’s arrival helped him shape the way he portrayed his role. He said, “Meeting him really solidified my grasp of who my character was. At first Matamore just seemed very wordy and over-the-top, but now I understand what his mind was like. It was interesting to meet the person who created him.”

Mr. Kushner spoke to English students and faculty as well. Wilson Wang ’19 said, “He was a very approachable person.  The first thing he did after entering the room, instead of greeting everybody, was to look at a picture on the wall of the library because he thought the dog’s nose was weirdly shaped that it looked like it was melting. When he was about to sit down, he realized that he had the ‘fancy’ chair and everybody else had the plastic blue chair. He immediately changed it.” He added, “Tony Kushner told us that in the beginning of starting to write, one’s play often “plagiarizes” others. But is important to know when and how to allude to other people while still developing your sense of writing. He didn’t just answer our questions but was so invested in teaching us how to better our writing.” By the end of the interview, Wang said, “If you don’t mind, I’m going to go back and read Angels in America.”

Heather Shao ’19 attended Kushner’s session for directors of the Fringe Festival, being part of last year’s cast. She said, “I just remember that he was so humble and so nice. He talked about politics, gave us advice, and really took his time to teach us. You could tell that he is a genius, but also that his success stemmed not only from that, but also from his passion.”

Although he only  spent a day at Choate, his words and impact on the students who attended his sessions may change their careers in both acting and writing. Mr. Kushner, even with being on top of his profession, remained humble and did not hold back on advice about strategies that he has culminated through the years of his experience. Mr. Kushner is truly the definition of a writer, and the furthest thing from a brand.

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