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Pulitzer Prize-winning Playwright Tony Kushner Visits Loyola University New Orleans as Loyola Presents Caroline, or Change

Loyola press release - October 3, 2017

Tony Kushner visits Loyola for a special evening program as Loyola presents his remarkable musical, which eloquently probes issues of race, identity, and history. Performances mark the play’s New Orleans premiere and a new university partnership with Jefferson Performing Arts Society (JPAS)

Loyola Presents an exciting first-time theatrical collaboration between Loyola University New Orleans’ Department of Theatre Arts and Dance and the Jefferson Performing Arts Society. Department chair and artistic director of Loyola Theatre Dr. Laura Hope will direct Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and former Louisiana resident Tony Kushner’s musical Caroline, or Change in the second show of the 2017-2018 theatre season, themed “Seeking Truth.” It will be the first time the play has been staged in the greater New Orleans area.

Set in 1963 Louisiana and opening on the day of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Caroline, or Change is a provocative story of political change, social change, and … pocket change. The Jewish Gellman family and their African-American maid, Caroline, live in sleepy Lake Charles, La. Caroline struggles through life as a single mother of four, while working as a maid to the Gellmans. A fragile but beautiful friendship develops between the young Gellman boy, Noah, and Caroline. Noah’s stepmother, Rose, tells Caroline to keep the money Noah leaves in his pockets, instead of giving her a raise, in order to teach the boy the value of money. Caroline refuses to take money from a child, but her own children desperately need food, clothing, and shoes. Outside of the home, some of the greatest social advancements the country has ever seen are being set in motion and change is knocking on the door. First performed in 2004, the play even has a subplot about Confederate monuments, making it prescient and timely in today’s New Orleans.

“Kushner often writes like a prophet,” said Hope. “His plays always seem to become more relevant as time goes on. This story may be a semi-autobiographical account of his childhood in Louisiana, but it feels as if it was specifically written for our society in 2017, even though the musical premiered in 2004.”

But the play is more than just a discussion of social issues. It’s also riveting entertainment with music ranging from Delta blues to gospel to klezmer to traditional Broadway. It’s a work Dr. Hope has been trying to stage for 10 years.

“It’s just a beautiful, powerful musical,” said Dr. Hope. “It deals with a lot of challenging topics, but the play itself feeds the soul, and is extraordinarily uplifting. I get chills every night in rehearsal listening to Troi Bechet as “Caroline” sing the first line: ‘Nothing ever happens under ground in Louisiana; there is only under water.’”

On another exciting note, Tony Kushner himself will be appearing at Loyola University New Orleans in support of the production. On Thursday, Nov. 2, in an event free to the public, Kushner will be interviewed on the stage of Roussel Hall by the founding editor of American Theatre, Jim O’Quinn. A question and answer session with the audience will follow the interview. The following day, he will host a Q & A masterclass just for Loyola students.

Kushner has won numerous accolades and awards in his storied career. He won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1993 for Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. He won a Tony Award for Best Play in 1993 and 1994 for Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Angels in America: Perestroika. He won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic Special in 2004 for the HBO adaptation of Angels in America. In 2005 and 2012, he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his work on Steven Spielberg’s Munich and Lincoln, respectively. He has a lifetime of writing knowledge to pass on to students.

“It’s an enormous opportunity for our students to learn by listening to a master of the writing craft across multiple mediums: theatre, film and television,” Dr. Hope said.

The show is a collaboration between Loyola’s Department of Theatre Arts & Dance and the Jefferson Performing Arts Society. Dennis G. Assaf, the executive/artistic director of the Jefferson Performing Arts Society, is a 1974 graduate of the Loyola College of Music of Fine Arts. Dr. Hope is excited about the pairing, as she promised to expand Loyola’s reach with new partnerships when she became department chair.

“Although inspired by Kushner’s childhood growing up in Lake Charles, La., the conversation the musical opens up about how race, class, and religion shape a different experience of being an American for different people is one that is extraordinarily timely,” said Hope. “The music, written by Jeanine Tesori, the award-winning composer of Shrek, The Musical and Fun Home, supports the story beautifully and provides its own triptych through varying, uniquely American musical styles. I feel honored to present this musical to the greater New Orleans community with JPAS.”

Assaf and the Jefferson Performing Arts Society are just as eager to partner with Loyola. Loyola musical theatre students will fill out about half the cast, and the show’s conductor, Chris Bergeron, is a Loyola graduate. The rest of the cast are professional actors from the greater New Orleans area, including another Loyola alum, Mark Weinberg, in the role of the grieving father, Stuart, and Martin Covert and Francine Siegal as Stuart’s parents. Treasured New Orleans actress and singer Troi Bechet headlines in the titular role of “Caroline.”

“It gives me great joy to collaborate with my alma mater on this most exciting project. It’s been an honor to work with Dr. Laura Hope and her team and to see this wonderful production take shape in our beautiful Westwego Performing Arts Theater. I encourage everyone to see this important piece of theater and enjoy this historic collaboration between Loyola and the Jefferson Performing Arts Society.” Assaf said.

The show will be performed in the JPAS’ Westwego Performing Arts Theatre. It will be the first show at the theatre since it sustained heavy damage in Hurricane Isaac and underwent an extensive restoration.

Loyola Presents Caroline, Or Change will be held from Oct. 27-Nov. 5 at JPAS Westwego Performing Arts Theatre. On Fridays and Saturdays, shows will be at 7:30 p.m. On Sundays, shows will be at 2 p.m. Tickets are available online at jpas.org. Tickets are $20 - $35 for general admission, and $10 for Loyola students. Group rates are available. Call (504) 865-2074 for ticket information or (504) 865-3840 to reach Loyola’s Department of Theatre Arts and Dance.

On Thursday, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m., Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner will discuss his work with the general public in Louis J. Roussel Performance Hall at Loyola, 6363 St. Charles Ave. Jim O’Quinn, founding editor of American Theatre magazine, will lead the conversation. At the conclusion, there will be a question and answer period for the audience. The event is free and open to the public. Guests may reserve a seat in advance at presents.loyno.edu by clicking “Buy Tickets” to reserve a seat in the first five rows of the hall. If guests do not arrive to their reserved seats by 7:10 p.m., the seats will be given away. All other rows are open seating and do not require a reservation.