Tony Kushner Communiqué (#11)
Dear those of you in the snow-bound north:
Anyone who sat through all the noise and glitter of the Golden Globe awards last night would have noticed that the TV version ofAngels in America with Meryl Streep and Al Pacino won several GGs. In their thank yous, the recipients all mentioned the author Tony Kushner.
As it turns out, last week I saw Tony Kushner give a reading in Key West and answer audience questions. Some highlights are below:
He read from a prose piece called "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism with a Key to the Scriptures." It was a long, extremely funny, first-person rant about what "Intelligent" means, what "Homosexual" means, what they mean together, and then touched on death, mortality, turning 40, relationships with God, Forest Gump, and more. This rant apparently is in the process of becoming a play.
He said he starts working on a play by writing something in another form. Angels in America began as "a terrible poem."
Audience Question: So you think Forest Gump was a dangerous movie?
Kushner: Very much so. It was the beginning of revisionism of the Viet Nam war and the 60s and also made a strong anti-intellectual statement: That the world belongs to people who aren't screwed up by intellectualism and tricky notions. This is nonsense. This kind of thing leads people to think that the non-elected person in the White House deserves to lead this country. (Loud applause.)
Audience Question: What was it like writing a musical? [Caroline or Change, a semi- autobiographical musical about growing up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, opened in December at the Public Theater in New York]
Kushner: Collaborating with a composer was an amazing exercise in synthesis. In arguments, you can't win and the other person can't win, because if you "win", the other person has lost possession of a creative moment, and this is dangerous for the piece.
Audience Question: What was it like writing a children's book?
Kushner: Children are a very difficult audience. You know right away if your piece works because if children don't like it, they pull it out of your hand and say, "Here read a different one."
"Children's literature is the most important literature there is. It changes its audience more than any adult literature can."
Ed. note: This children's book was a rewriting of an opera, originally written in Czech, performed by children in the Nazi concentration camp, Therezin. Tony was asked to make the English language libretto into a children's book with illustrations by Maurice Sendak. It is called Brundibar.
Audience Question about Kushner's use of language in the "rant" he read:
Kushner: Language has to loosen the bonds of rationality. Music does this very well. Music can free things that words can't. Music can go right to the heart and release emotions. Poetry can bring into a room or a head that which words can't say -- but it is still bound to language. In my prose pieces I surrender to hyperarticulation in an attempt to get to those places. Shaw does this, for example in Don Juan in Hell [part of Man and Superman]. The kind of writing I do can sometimes lift the rational into an area of feeling. I believe that an audience can handle "optimal frustration" -- a piece can be just hard enough...not so hard that you give up, but hard enough so that if you keep listening, you think you'll get it."
For a sample of what Tony Kushner might sound like, imagine he is reading very very quickly this amazing commencement speech he gave in 2002 at vassar : http://www.barclayagency.com/kushner_vassar.html
If you're interested, and I know that at least one of you is, see this website for links to other Kushner writing including a scenefrom his forthcoming play about Laura Bush reading Dostoevsky to dead Iraqi children:
That's all for now.