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How Actors Theatre's Dramaturg Unpacks 'Angels In America'


In her office at Actors Theatre of Louisville, dramaturg Jenni Page-White digs through a white bank box.

It’s stuffed with binders and thick file folders bulging with newspaper clippings, essays about the social and political implications of HIV, and a cassette tape of Yiddish pronunciation. They are all necessary elements in her effort to tackle Tony Kushner’s landmark play “Angels in America, Parts One & Two: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika.”

Set in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis, the play has a lot of wide-reaching themes.

“It’s about politics, democracy,” Page-White says. “It’s about justice, sexuality, religion. And it does all of this with a really exuberant theatricality.”

And as a dramaturg — a staff member who researches elements of the text and helps contextualize them for the creative team — Page-White has spent months contextualizing the play for the actors who are taking on the massive two-part production later this month in celebration of “Angel’s” 25th anniversary. (When combined, the play is about seven hours long.)

Page-White provided packets of research which cover everything from the political climate in the 1980s, to medical equipment and early forms of treatment against HIV and AIDS, to the Red Scare trials in the 1950s.

This, Page-White says, often offers the actors a pathway into understanding what truly motivates their characters.

“I’m providing research for them that will help them answer questions about ‘What is my character thinking at this moment?’” Page-White says. “For instance, there are two closeted gay characters in the play and so we talked a lot about research about the social pressures of staying in the closet at that time and the political implications of coming out.”

A big part of Page-White’s job -- and of the entire literary department -- also takes place outside the rehearsal room through creating a lot of the materials the audience sees.

“It’s not live yet, but we have an online newsletter with articles about the play itself,” she says.

There’s an article about the legacy of "Angels in America" and why it still feels relevant 25 years later. There’s also an article about how Tony Kushner is taking real historical figures and wildly theatrical and magical beings like angels and meshing them together.

“So in that way I feel like I am really mediating between two worlds,” she says. “I am trying to provide resources for the creative team in the room to make decisions, and I am also trying to provide context for the audience so that their experience is enriched.”

" Part One: Millennium Approaches" will preview August 29 and 30 with an official opening on August 31. " Part Two: Perestroika" will preview September 19 and 20 with an official opening on September 21. 

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