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Bard Fisher Center Presents Tony Kushner on Leonard Bernstein

“Some playwrights want to change the world. Some want to revolutionize theater. Tony Kushner is that rarity of rarities: a writer who has the promise to do both.” —New York Times

Eleanor Davis
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.— Playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner is best known for his Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play Angels In America, as well as Carolineor Change and the screenplay for the 2012 film Lincoln. In this conversation with theater critic and scholar Alisa Solomon, Kushner will reflect on his relationship to the music of Leonard Bernstein, including his current work with Stephen Sondheim developing a screenplay of Bernstein’s West Side Story. Like Bernstein, Kushner is a powerful advocate for social change in his life and work, asking audiences to identify with the marginalized through humanizing acts of imagination. The program takes place on Saturday, May 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the Sosnoff Theater; tickets start at $25 and are available along with additional information at or by calling the box office at 845-758-7900.

About the Artists

Born in New York City in 1956, and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Tony Kushner is best known for his two-part epic, Angels In America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. His other plays include A Bright Room Called DaySlavs!HydrotaphiaHomebody/Kabul, ; as well as a musical Caroline, or Change, and opera A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck, both with composer Jeanine Tesori. Kushner has translated and adapted Pierre Corneille’s The Illusion, S.Y. Ansky's The Dybbuk, Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Sezuan and Mother Courage and Her Children, and the English-language libretto for the children’s opera Brundibár by Hans Krasa. He wrote the screenplays for Mike Nichols’ film of Angels In America, and Steven Spielberg’s Munich.  In 2012 he wrote the screenplay for Spielberg's movie Lincoln. His screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award, and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award, Boston Society of Film Critics Award, Chicago Film Critics Award, and several others. His books include But the Giraffe: A Curtain Raising and Brundibar: the Libretto, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak; The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present; and Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict, co-edited with Alisa Solomon. His recent work includes a collection of one-act plays entitled Tiny Kushner, and The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. In addition, a revival of Angels in America ran off-Broadway at the Signature Theater and won the Lucille Lortel Award in 2011 for Outstanding Revival.

Kushner is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, an Emmy Award, two Tony Awards, three Obie Awards, two Evening Standard Awards, an Olivier Award, two Oscar nominations, an Arts Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a PEN/Laura Pels Award, a Spirit of Justice Award from the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, a Cultural Achievement Award from The National Foundation for Jewish Culture, a Chicago Tribune Literary Prize for lifetime achievement, the 2012 National Medal of Arts, the 2015 Lifetime Achievement in the American Theater Award, and the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award, among many others. He is the subject of a documentary film, Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner, made by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock.    

In “After Angels,” a profile of Tony Kushner published in The New Yorker, John Lahr wrote: “[Kushner] is fond of quoting Melville’s heroic prayer from Mardi and a Voyage Thither (“Better to sink in boundless deeps than float on vulgar shoals”), and takes an almost carnal glee in tackling the most difficult subjects in contemporary history – among them, AIDS and the conservative counter-revolution (Angels In America), Afghanistan and the West (Homebody/Kabul), German Fascism and Reaganism (A Bright Room Called Day), the rise of capitalism (Hydriotaphia, or the Death of Dr. Browne), and racism and the civil rights movement in the South (Caroline, or Change). But his plays, which are invariably political, are rarely polemical. Instead Kushner rejects ideology in favor of what he calls “a dialectically shaped truth,” which must be “outrageously funny” and “absolutely agonizing,” and must “move us forward.” He gives voice to characters who have been rendered powerless by the forces of circumstances – a drag queen dying of AIDS, an uneducated Southern maid, contemporary Afghans – and his attempt to see all sides of their predicament has a sly subversiveness. He forces the audience to identify with the marginalized – a humanizing act of the imagination.” He lives in Manhattan with his husband, Mark Harris.

Alisa Solomon teaches at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where she directs the Arts & Culture concentration in the MA program. A theater critic and general reporter for the Village Voice from 1983 to 2004, she has also contributed to The New York TimesThe Nation,, TabletThe Forward,,, American TheaterTDR – The Drama Review, and other publications. Her first book, Re-Dressing the Canon: Essays on Theater and Gender, won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism.
Alisa has also edited several books: The Reverend Billy Project: From Rehearsal Hall to Super Mall with the Church of Life After Shopping by Savitri D and Bill Talen; Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (co-edited with Tony Kushner); The Queerest Art: Essays on Lesbian and Gay Theater (co-edited with Framji Minwalla), and a special issue of the journal Theater on theater and social change.

Wonder of Wonders draws on her expertise in Theater Studies as well as on her study of Yiddish language and literature, long-standing interest in the relationship between artworks and their social contexts, and unbridled love of great musicals. And of course she sang along with the Fiddler LP as a kid, worked on a production at JCC camp, and, in more recent years, has seen performances of the show on three continents. That connection, combined with with extensive research in English and Yiddish archives in Poland, Israel, and across the US, and with interviews with more than 100 people involved in dramatizations of Sholem-Aleichem’s masterful Tevye stories, made working on Wonder of Wonders a thrilling process of both personal and scholarly discovery.

Alisa was born in Chicago and grew up in Highland Park, IL. She earned her BA (double-majoring in Drama and Philosophy) at the University of Michigan’s Residential College, and her MFA and Doctorate (in Dramaturgy and Criticism) at the Yale School of Drama. She likes to cook and has been practicing Seido Karate since 1983. She lives in New York City.
Tickets, subscriptions, gift certificates, and group discounts are available with additional information at or by calling the box office at 845-758-7900.

Presented as part of the worldwide Bernstein centenary celebration.  This event will include an audience Q&A and a book signing.
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The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College
Named for the late Richard B. Fisher, former chair of Bard’s Board of Trustees, the Fisher Center has become an influential force in performing arts programming, earning critical acclaim for innovative productions of opera, orchestral, chamber, dance, and theater programs. The Center was designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry and distinguished acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, and has received international praise for its breathtaking architecture and superb sound.
Each summer the Fisher Center presents the Bard SummerScape festival, seven weeks of performing arts programs reflecting the life and times of the featured composer of the esteemed Bard Music Festival, now celebrating its 29th year. Fall and spring seasons include original productions, special one-night-only concerts, and touring artists from around the globe.
The Fisher Center is home to the Bard College Theater & Performance and Dance Programs, providing students access to exceptional theater facilities and opportunities to work with professional directors and dramaturges on publicly attended productions throughout the year. The Bard College Conservatory of Music and Bard College Music Program stage regular orchestral and chamber concerts.
Special Thanks
The Fisher Center’s Winter/Spring 2018 season is made possible in part through the generous support of the Board of The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, and the Friends of the Fisher Center, as well as a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
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This event was last updated on 05-02-2018