The Clark State Community College Theatre Arts Program will present “Angels in America” by American playwright Tony Kushner. The play has received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Tony Award for Best Play and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play.
Theresa Lauricella, associate professor and Theatre Arts Program coordinator at Clark State, said she met with show director Sarah Michelson in the spring of last year to discuss show titles for the 2015-16 academic year. “Given that the Supreme Court was about to rule on gay marriage, it seemed ‘Angels’ was an interesting fit to showcase, historically, how far America has come in the last 30 years,” said Lauricella. “We found out ‘Angels’ was approved the very day before the Supreme Court ruling.”
“Angels in America” focuses on AIDS and homosexuality in America in the 1980s. Michelson, who also serves as business manager of the Springfield Arts Council, said while the story deals with serious themes, it does so with a sense of humor. “The dialogue brings lightness to some very dark struggles.”
Michelson recently directed “Three by Tennessee” produced by Springfield Stageworks. She said she chose “Angels in America” for many reasons. “It's a highly accredited play, and it depicts a time that is almost fading into history,” she said. “The gay community in New York City in the 1980s battled an epidemic. AIDS took the lives of so many during that time. I wanted to give a voice to their story, to this time in history, and also convey the connections to current marginalized communities.”
Lauricella said the title has already proved to be a challenge as it examines the subject of AIDS, mental illness, homosexuality, religion and politics. “The challenge is presenting these subjects with dignity and purpose,” she said. “Luckily, the characters articulate these subjects very eloquently.”
Michelson said the play's long lasting reach can be seen in the number of times it has been produced, especially at universities and colleges to educate students about script analysis, political theater and balancing the reality and fantasy world within a play. “It is a staple, almost an institution, of modern American theater,” she said.
In order to prepare for “Angels in America,” a prevention specialist from the AIDS Resource Center Ohio attended a rehearsal to educate the cast on the history of the AIDS epidemic and HIV awareness. “She showed the company what the reality of AIDS was like for a patient in 1985,” said Lauricella.
Michelson and her artistic team also reached out to ARC Ohio, EQUALITY Springfield, the Diversity Council at Clark State, the Gay/Straight Alliance student organization at Clark State, PFLAG of Dayton and more.
The nine-person “Angels in America” cast has been in rehearsals since the beginning of February. Lauricella said the production has a great deal of spectacle with the cast pushing the limits on lighting, sound and the fly systems. A majority of the taskforce is student driven with several students fulfilling 20-plus roles during pre-production including building the set and preparing the costumes. During the actual production, students run the show backstage in various capacities ranging from light and sound boards, fly system and wardrobe.
“I hope audiences witness the humanity of the story, witness these themes and feel empowered after seeing it,” said Michelson.
“Angels in America” will be presented Friday, April 15 and Saturday, April 16 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 17 at 2 p.m. at the Clark State Performing Arts Center, 300 South Fountain Avenue in downtown Springfield. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online at pac.clarkstate.edu. Admission is free for Clark State students with a student ID.
FOR MATURE AUDIENCES: CONTAINS ADULT LANGUAGE, ADULT SITUATIONS AND NUDITY.