An interview with retiring Director and Professor Dr. Blair Anderson on Theatre and Dance’s production of Angels in America
The Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of Angels in America is the last play Dr. Blair Anderson will direct before his retirement at the end of May 2019.
Anderson began his time at Wayne State University as a PhD student in 1976. He taught at Oakland University after receiving his degree until 1991 when he was hired as a professor at Wayne State.
He said he’s excited to go out with a show as timeless and impactful as Angels in America.
“I feel very fortunate to get to work on it,” he said. “It will be a great memory after we finish it.”
The two-part epic about a young gay man diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 New York City, is a ten-time Tony Award winner. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Anderson said although the play is centered around the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, the play has no singular theme or thought.
“It is such a complex show,” he said. “The AIDS crisis was a period that I lived through. I lost a number of good artistic friends during that time period, people I had worked with. But it’s about human progress, the battles between a kind of conservative or traditional approach, where people want to maintain what they have, or the more progressive or liberal approach with a belief that things can get better and that we can improve our society.”
“I think that’s a very dynamic context for the play that will be timeless,” Anderson said. “Right now it has a great deal of resonance with the kind of political turmoil we have in the United States right now.
He said the personal turmoil characters go through in the play represents the show’s theme of human relationships and abandonment.
“I think audiences can also identify with themes about close relationships,” he said. “It’s not just apolitical play by any means. It’s about quite a bit more than that.”
May 5 and 11 The Department of Theatre and Dance will present the play in its entirety with back-to-back performances.
Anderson said the department has done two-part shows this way many times in the past such as, Nicholas Nickleby, an 8 and a half hour-long adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel.
He said directing the group of eight WSU graduate students was a highlight of his time at WSU.
“I’m very pleased with the work everybody has done on the show,” he said. “Just working with them and discussing ideas of how to bring a moment of the play to life is the fun part. It’s a lot of work but it’s exciting. It’s both intellectually and emotionally challenging to work on such sensitive material.
“Each one of the actors brings those characters to life in their own specific way,” Anderson said. “The company is strong as a group of actors so willing to share with one another. It’s really exceptional to work with this particular group. I hope I’ve given to my students as much as they’ve given to me,” he said.
Quint Mediate, a second-year graduate student in theatre and acting at WSU, stars in the production Angels in America.
“Anderson is a wonderful director and incredibly passionate about Angels in America,” Mediate said.
“You see it in his work. You can tell it’s kind of his pride and joy and he just has so much grace,” he said. “It’s really special for him and we feel it as a company. We really want to honor his time at Wayne State and put on a successful production.”
Mediate said he thinks the play has an interesting historical context.
“I think it says something really important about the state of our country and what America is,” he said. “As an out-and-proud gay man, and the play being a testament to the AIDS crisis, it’s really special to pay tribute to that epidemic as a piece of history.”
Anderson compared Angels in America to classical plays like Hamlet with new interpretations born with each generation of performers.
“There will be a new understanding, awareness and perspective on the play in the way it relates to contemporary culture and society as time goes on,” he said. “I think Angels is going to be a part of our American canon for a very long time, not just as a history play but as a story that replay explores the human condition.”
To learn more about the department’s current performance season, visit www.theatreanddanceatwayne.com/2018-2019-season,
By: Sarah Kominek (Department of Communication, Journalism major)