The Department of Theatre at California State University, Northridge has been making performance art for more than 60 years and has produced more than 600 theatrical performances. The department’s prolific history is due in part to its hands-on curriculum, which grants students significant creative authority in certain productions.
CSUN’s most advanced acting and directing students this spring are hard at work on a production of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning Angels in America, Part I: Millennium Approaches. The play explores the prevailing attitudes toward homosexuality and AIDS in the 1980s from a gay, Jewish man’s perspective. The CSUN students will present the play April 28-May 7 at the Valley Performing Arts Center’s (VPAC) Experimental Theatre Room.
Larry Biederman, associate professor of theatre at CSUN and the production’s artistic director, said the department has focused on placing students in leadership roles.
“There’s been a big movement toward mentoring students in roles usually given to faculty,” Biederman said. “I haven’t directed here in three years. I’m supposed to direct once a year, but I’ve been giving my slot to students.”
Biederman teaches students the basics before they assume leadership positions in productions. Knowing how to absorb and benefit from criticism is key for aspiring directors, he said.
“[Being a beginning director] is about criticism and not taking it personally. That’s a huge one — to not crumble and [just accept] that there’s a better idea out there,” Biederman said.
Theater students Eric Whit, Fatima Said and Michaela Escarcega are working on the Angels in America production directors. Escarcega called the experience unique and valuable, and she emphasized the amount of effort directing requires.
“If you’re a student willing to go to the professors and willing to put in 200 percent, the professors will absolutely give back to you,” Escarcega said. “[My] being a part of this production is an example of that. I don’t know of any other friends I have, at any other program, that have this opportunity.”
Biederman said he hopes the performance will resonate with people who feel uneasy due to the country’s recent political developments, while also highlighting theatre’s timelessness and power.
“I hope that the play gives a voice to so many of us who are feeling disenfranchised by our government right now,” Biederman said. “I also hope that people will have a renewed experience of how enduringly relevant theatre can be.
“So many people don’t go to the theatre because they assume they can get the same experience from film and television,” he continued. “[People think], ‘I’ll just get this song on iTunes or look up art on the computer,’ so it’s really important that theatre figures out how to identify its uniqueness. It can’t be substituted by staying at home.”
Angels in America, Part I: Millennium Approaches is open to the public. VPAC Experimental Theatre Room staff will begin seating guests at 7 p.m., and the show will begin at 7:30 p.m. except for Sunday shows, which will begin at 2 p.m. Organizers will not allow late seating to attendees in order to avoid disturbances.
For tickets and information, call (818) 677-2488 or visit the Associated Students Ticket Office. Tickets can also be purchased at ticketmaster.com, or at the VPAC office on the day of the event.