Q&A: Rogue Theatre director talks depicting New York's HIV/AIDS of the '80s in new play

matt_bowdren_headshot
Courtesy of Matt Bowdren | The Daily Wildcat

Portrait of Matt Bowdren, director of "Angels in America Part One: Millenium Approaches" at The Rogue Theatre. The play opened Thursday, Sep. 8 and runs until Sep. 15.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer-Prize- winning play "Angels in America." Set in New York during the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, the play deals with heavy themes. The plot revolves around two couples who become intertwined in each others lives after an unlikely meeting in an office bathroom.

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On Thursday, Sept. 8, The Rogue Theatre acting ensemble opened its 2016-2017 season with Kushner's dramatic "Millennium Approaches," part one of the two-part play. While tackling serious content is nothing new to the Rogue actors, this is the first time the theater has ever produced this show.

The show is also a first for its director Matt Bowdren, a seasoned Tucson actor. The Daily Wildcat sat down with Bowden, a former UA adjunct faculty and graduate in acting and directing, to talk direction, the performing process and perceptions of Kushner's work.

So, you guys are used to some pretty heavy stuff, but this is your first time ever doing this play. Is this different from what the Rogue usually does?

We are a classical theater company. Our three main focuses are ensemble, creative theater and quality literature — things that pose questions, offer complex views of the world and create discussion. ... The material is challenging and it is heavy, there's no doubt about that.

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What were the hardest and easiest parts of working through this play with this cast?

The hardest part is conceptually marrying what we do at the Rogue. We always put the literature first. We are always focused on the story and quality of literature before special effects. It's a play that really requires special effects and spectacle in a theater that focuses on the connection between actor and audience. The easiest part is just that we are a group of artists that really say yes to each other and it's a really positive room that we work in.

What's your perception of the play after directing and having it on stage in Tucson?

I think you very rarely get to see this type of theater with this play. You get all the elements you want to see in a play—spectacle, humor, depth and tragedy. I think it's an important part of our cultural history as a nation. So, to get to have Tucson and our theater step into that history [...] is really special.

Do you have a takeaway idea that you want the audience to get out of this performance?

I try to avoid it like the plague. I think your job as an actor, director and a theater artist is not to dictate response. I don't think my job is to make you think or feel a certain way. I think it's to give you an experience, to let you think and feel how you want to think and feel. I think that's a real dialogue with an audience that I and the Rogue always strive for.

The Rogue Theatre will run "Angels in America: Millennium Approaches" until Sunday, Sept. 25. Student tickets start at $15 and will be available at the box office before the show.


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