Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner speaks on campus


Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner will be the keynote speaker for this year’s 43rd Annual National Undergraduate Honors Conference for Communication and Theatre.

The event will take place this Thursday through Saturday. Twenty-six students from across the nation will be participating in this year’s conference, five of which are from DePauw University. Attending scholars hail from across the nation, including Cornell University, Georgetown College, and University of North Dakota, to name a few.

To be considered for the conference, the process begins with an outstanding research project. Submissions are open to all areas of communication and theatre research.  

“One of the most important parts of the conference is its mission to inspire students to go on to graduate school. The list goes on and on of DePauw students who have done that,” said Kent Menzel, co-director of the conference.

The conference originated in 1975 by three professors at DePauw. Its structure lets students to do more than simply present their research. The conference allows students to workshop their studies in an intimate setting with an established scholar.

“The environment is something we are quite proud of,” said Melanie Finney, chairman of the communications department.

In contrast to normal DePauw courses, Menzel says the Conference gives issues more attention. “In a normal class in our DePauw experience we get flashes of this [environment], but we don’t get nearly the depth, or the intimacy, or the motivation to pursue those ideas that you get at the Honors Conference,” said Menzel. “That’s part of that spark, I think, that lights the fire that sends students to a higher study.”

This year, three established scholars have been invited: Kristen Harrison from University of Michigan, Todd McDorman from Wabash College, and Paul Schrodt from Texas Christian University. Each scholar will give a presentation during the conference in addition to working with students.

This will be Kushner’s second visit to DePauw after speaking at the undergraduate conference in 1999. Tony Kushner will be speaking at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday in Moore Theatre during a conversation with Deborah Geis, professor of English.

Kushner is the author of the play, “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.” His visit to campus is rather timely as the DePauw theatre presents the fourth and final play for the semester, “Angels in America: Part One Millennium Approaches,” on April 21. While Kushner will not be watching the performance, he will be meeting with the cast and crew for dinner prior to his keynote address.

“It’s such a rare event. When else are students going to be able to meet and interact with the play that they are going to be performing in?” Finney said.

Kushner’s visit brings forth a new level of excitement and motivation for some cast members.

“It’s the most important play, to me. To be able to be in it is super exciting. We are all really motivated to do the best work that we can, because we want to honor these amazing words,” said junior Saige Torttman-Heiut, who plays the role of the rabbi.

“Angels in America: Part One Millennium Approaches” is directed by Professor of Communication and Theatre Steve Timm.  “When I selected the play last year, the world was in a different place and had a very different outlook….But now that the world has changed so drastically in the past year, it seems very, very timely now. I’m glad I made the choice,” Timm said.

According to Timm, “Angels in America: Part One Millennium Approaches” is a play that confronts issues of both political and social significance.

“The play is very critical of the 80s and of the Reagan administration,” Timm said. “It’s an implicit kind of criticism that has to do with the other side of aids that we don’t see; the love between people, the care, the suffering, the things that Reagan didn’t care particularly about.”

Timm feels the issues that the play confronts are not reserved strictly for the DePauw community, but the nation as a whole.

“It brings up issues of both political and social relevance that, I think, as a liberal arts institute, we are obligated to confront,” Timm said. “There’s a lot of humor in the show, which I think, is a testament to the writing and professional development of the play.”

Some cast members are feeling added pressure with Kushner’s visit. Among them is senior Jeremy Boyd. Boyd is playing the role of Roy Cohn, a powerful conservative lawyer.

“There have been a ton of famous actors play the role of Roy Cohn, so there already was a lot of pressure before, Tony just adds more to it,” Boyd said, “But, I want to think of him just like any other audience member, and not the playwright. I don’t want to worry about it too much, so I can still do my best on stage.”