• “Broadway” has become a marketing and business term as well as a
geographic one. A “Broadway theatre” is a commercial theatre in Midtown
Manhattan that has more than 500 seats.
• Broadway became a venue for drama and story-based musicals over the
course of the 1920s, having previously been home to vaudevilles, revues,
melodramas, and minstrel shows.
• What is conventionally called the Golden Age of Broadway extended from
1943 (premiere of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!) until the mid
1960s. By the late 1980s, Broadway was dominated by foreign musicals;
productions of new, non-musical works had become rare; and Times Square
was associated as much with pornography, prostitution, and strip clubs as it
was with theatre.
• “Off-Broadway” is a business term, denoting houses in Midtown or
Lower Manhattan that seat 100-499 people; “Off-Off-Broadway”
denotes a house with fewer than 100 seats.
• These terms are also associated with the Off-Broadway Movement of
the 1950s and the subsequent Off-Off-Broadway Movement of the
• Off-Off-Broadway, in particular, was also a major incubation ground
for work by members of identity groups that were excluded from
mainstream theatrical culture—non-white Americans, LGBT people,
and practitioners of countercultural lifestyles.
• Caffé Cino (1958) Café in Greenwich
Village where Sam Shepherd, John Guare,
Lanford Wilson, and Tom O’Horgan (director
of the original productions of Hair and Jesus
Christ Superstar) got their start, performing
alongside pioneers of postmodern dance and
• LaMaMa Experimental Theatre Club (1961)
Founded by Ellen Stewart as a venue
“dedicated to the playwright and all aspects
of the theatre.” Continues to be one of the
world’s most notable venues for new
• Playhouse of the Ridiculous (1965)
Associated with the works of John Vaccaro
and Charles Ludlum. Located in a basement
on the same block as the Stonewall Inn, and
was similarly a center for the Greenwich
Village gay community.
• INTAR (1966) Venue primarily for Latin@
and Chican@ playwrights; home of famous
playwriting workshop run by Maria Irene
• The Performing Garage (1968) Home of the
Performance Group and its later offshoot, the
Wooster Group, led by Elizabeth LeCompte.
• Wow Café (1980) Major venue for female
(especially lesbian) theatre and performance
artists, including Split Britches, Carmelita
Tropicana, and Lisa Kron.
“People don’t get the radicalism of Joe’s vision.
There was an absolute commitment to a
revolutionary relationship between life and art,
and a mistrust of anything that compromised that.”
“It’s very strange, in that theatre,
everyone has to be very polite;
looks like going to church.”—Papp,
criticizing audiences at Lincoln
• The list of major New York Theatre artists who died of AIDs-related
illnesses is depressingly long; the gay community and the theatre
community in New York had been closely linked to each other for
• Kramer’s play The Normal Heart, produced by Papp at the Public
Theater in 1985, was the first major play staged in New York to
address the AIDS crisis directly, explicitly attacking the apparent
apathy of the city government, local newspapers, and major medical
and public health institutions.
• William Hoffman’s equally political AIDS drama As Is premiered the
• Two years later, Kramer founded AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power
(ACT UP), which organized mass protest events, including mass
performance events called “die-ins.”
• By the time Angels in America opened on Broadway in 1993, a
whole subgenre of “AIDS plays”—many of them explicitly politically
activist in tone—was developing. Notable examples include
Terrence McNally’s Lips Together, Teeth Apart (1991) and Love,
Valour, Compassion (1994); Paula Vogel’s The Baltimore Waltz
(1990); Nicky Silver’s Pterodactyls (1993); and the musical RENT
• “Culture War” has become a term for the
acrimonious debates about public morals,
“political correctness,” and government
sponsorship of the arts that took place in the US
during the 1980s and ‘90s.
• The central, iconic events during this “war” were
the congressional debates about funding for the
National Endowment for the Arts. Protests
against the NEA centered largely on
controversial gay and lesbian artists such as
Robert Mapplethorpe, Tim Miller, and Holly
Hughes, who had received NEA grants.
• Repeated cuts in arts funding, often on
ideological grounds, have significantly harmed
non-profit and experimental theatres in the US,
and the threat of further cuts remains an
• Kushner himself has always been an avid
“culture warrior”—many of the contemporary
cultural references in Angels refer to figures or
controversies associated with the American
"There are in this country political traditions - from organised
labor, from the civil rights and black power movements, from
feminist and homosexual liberation movements, from movements
for economic reform - which postulated democracy as an ongoing
project, as a dynamic process. These traditions exist in opposition
to those which make fixed fetishes of democracy and freedom,
talismans for Reaction. These traditions, which constitute the history
of progressive and radical America, have been shunted to the side,
covered over in an attempt at revisionism that began during the McCarthy era.“
-Kushner, “Some Questions on Tolerance”
A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as
though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly
contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings
are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face
is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events,
he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and
hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken
the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is
blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a
violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm
irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned,
while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is
what we call progress.
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