Tony Kushner’s letter about Angels in America

Friday, November 12, 1999

c/o Heat & Light Co., Inc.

TO Dr. William Holda, Professor Raymond Caldwell and the cast and crew of ANGELS IN AMERICA

October 14, 1999

Dear Dr. Holda, Professor Caldwell, the cast and crew:

I’m writing to send you all my very best wishes for a splendid opening night, and my congratulations and gratitude for the principled stand you’ve taken in carrying on with your production. I wish I could be there.

All over the country, and all over the world, people who are afraid of new ideas, people whose faith is too shallow and too fragile to encounter any interrogatory spirit, people who do not scruple at using blackmail, threats of violence or even violence itself to silence voices different from their own — these people have waged a war against art in the name of decency, in the name of civic stability, in the name of God. But censoring art, even indecent art, isn’t decent; it’s thuggish, it’s unconstitutional, undemocratic, and deeply unwise. Censoring art doesn’t promote civic stability; censorship promotes only the illusion of civic stability, the illusion of homogeneity, and the real health of the state is consequently imperiled, because a healthy state needs vigorous, lively, pluralistic debate, not enforced acquiescence to a bullying majority. And as for God…

Well, my God is very, very different from the God worshiped in any church or synagogue or mosque whose Will it is that art, or free thought or speech of any kind, ought to be forbidden. I can’t imagine that a God who gave us the power to create, the powers of discrimination and critical thinking, that we have to be kept in ignorance, sheltered like small children, to remain good. The great thing about the U.S. Constitution is that I am allowed to worship my God, and others are allowed to worship theirs, and since this is not a theocracy, we can agree to disagree about the nature of the deity. But as citizens we have all agreed that the First Amendment protects speech, which includes artistic expression, and creates a public sphere in which all sorts of ideas and opinions are exchanged. In coining laws which created such a sphere, the framers of the Constitution were reacting to the fearfulness of previous centuries, during which new ideas were denounced as heretical, sinful, evil, and subsequently banned. They understood that democracy needs brave and inquisitive citizens.

In Bucharest, Romania, a few months ago, an angry mob attacked the theater in which Angels was being presented and tried to burn the building to the ground. There’s less moral ground separating that mob from people who threaten to pull funding from a college, or a theater festival, as a way of stopping a production, than the fund-pullers would care to think. In America we almost never face violence, or even threats of legal action directly against our persons, for the art we do — though of course the art which is silenced by other means, by threats of de-funding, is frequently art that attempts to speak about the lives of people against whom discrimination and actual violence are routinely practiced. Those who wish to silence us have learned that they can attempt an end-run around the Constitution’s mighty edict against censorship by simply using money, from the state or from foundations and individuals, to force compliance with their convictions and beliefs. What they seek is no different from what that mob in Bucharest sought: a world in which people are afraid to make art that challenges convention, that says what may not have been spoken before. These people are bullies, and bullies must be defied.

And that’s what you’re doing. So I’m grateful to you, not only as a playwright whose work you have protected, but as a fellow citizen. So go and do a great job! Don’t get chuffed-up, and fill the play with anger, which the attacks on your work may have generated; part of the strategy of the enemies of art is to create toxic environments in which the art, even if on display, can’t be properly received. Trust in the play, in your work and your talents, in your audience.

Go and talk to the angels. I’m sending you all my good wishes and prayers.


Tony Kushner