A Bright Room Called Day
By Tony Kushner
Over the course of the season, our assistant directors and student dramaturgs will be compiling dramaturgical resources relating to each production as it develops. Below are some links to websites which relate to the history of the play, the biography of the playwright, and sites that contextualize and, we hope, shed light on the directorial approach to the dramatic material.
We hope you find these resources of interest.
Tony Kushner (b. 16 July 1956)
American playwright and screenwriter Anthony Robert “Tony” Kushner is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, two Tony Awards, an Emmy Award, a Laurence Olivier Award, an Arts Award from the American Academy of Letters and, most recently, a National Medal of Arts, “the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government.”
At the National Medal of Arts ceremony, the White House praised Kushner for scripts that have “moved audiences worldwide, marrying humor to fury, history to fantasy, and the philosophical to the personal.” According to critic John Lahr, Kushner “takes an almost carnal glee in tackling the most difficult subjects in contemporary history;—among them, AIDS and the conservative counter-revolution, Afghanistan and the West, German Fascism and Reaganism, the rise of capitalism, and racism and the civil rights movement in the South.” “[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.”
Kushner was born in New York City, and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Experiences of his Southern childhood, and his wish to explore the civil rights movement, race relations, and Jewish culture from the perspective of his small hometown inspired his 2003 musical, Caroline, or Change.
Other celebrated works include his Pulitzer Prize winning Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (1993), Hydriotaphia (1987), Homebody/Kabul (2001), Slavs! (1994), and an adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s The Illusion (produced by the UR International Theatre Program in 2009. Kushner also wrote the screenplays for Steven Spielberg’s Munich (2005), and Lincoln (2012).
Kushner graduated from Columbia University in 1974 with a bachelor of arts degree in medieval studies. In a commencement address to his alma mater’s Class of 2004, he urges the graduates to “seek the truth; when you find it, speak the truth; interrogate mercilessly the truth you’ve found; and act, act, act.”
Kushner on himself, his work, playwriting, and “The Art of Theatre” in an interview with The Paris Review’s Catherine Steindler.
Kushner and director Oskar Eustis discuss Lincoln in New York City’s Strand Bookstore.
Kushner on Angels in America in an interview with Mother Jones’s Andrea Bernstein.
Political Climate: The Weimar Republic
Early 1930’s Weimar Germany provides the historical backdrop for A Bright Room Called Day. The Weimar Republic was Germany’s first attempt at a constitutional democracy. Established in 1919, the Weimar Republic replaced the imperial government that had reigned since 1871.
The Republic was modeled after the American presidential and British parliamentary systems. Germans elected legislators (the Reichstag), who approved and supported a Chancellor and Cabinet. Prior to World War I, only men twenty-five years of age and older were permitted to vote.The Weimar constitution granted voting rights to all men and women twenty years of age and older. Women made up more than 52% of the potential electorate, and their support was vital to the new Republic.
Weimar Germany was a maelstrom of political activism and ideology. The voting ballot often included more than 30 political parties. Parties who commanded substantial voting blocs, and at focus in Bright Room are the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the German Communist Party (KPD), and the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP-Nazi).
From 1919 to 1932, the Social Democratic Party received the most votes in national elections and had the largest legislative delegation. The SPD was committed to further reform of Weimar Germany and hoped to eventually make the institutions and economy of the Republic more egalitarian, whilst maintaining a parliamentary republic.
The KPD opposed the parliamentary system of the Weimar Republic, and embraced the communist ideologies of Karl Marx. The KPD was an affiliate of the Communist International (Comintern), the international communist organization headquartered in Moscow. The Comintern endeavored for “the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie, and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State, by all available means, including armed force.”
The Nazi Party, lead by Adolf Hitler, opposed the Weimar Republic, and advocated for fascist and totalitarian policies. The years during which the play is set, 1932-1933, mark the dissolution of the Republic, and the rise of Hitler’s Third Reich. Hitler’s ruthless doctrines of anti-Semitism and racism would lead to the executions of over 11 million people in the Holocaust.
For a history and critical analysis of the Weimar Republic, including scholarly essays, timeline, and primary sources, check out Facing History’s website.
Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm reflects on life in 1930’s Berlin.
The Weimar Republic and the Great Depression.
An analysis of the Weimar Republic’s dissolution.
Herbert Schonnenfeld photographs Jewish life in pre-World War II Germany.
Rare color photographs of 1937 Berlin show Hitler’s Third Reich at the height of power, eight years before the city was decimated by Allied forces.
Listen to “The Internationale,” the socialist international anthem.
Bright Room’s Vealtnic Husz is a proud “Trotskyite.” Read about Leon Trotsky.
Photograph galleries of political, cultural, and social life in Weimar Berlin.
Art and Culture in the Weimar Republic
From Facing History: Weimar Germany was a center of artistic innovation, great creativity, and considerable experimentation. In film, the visual arts, architecture, craft, theater, and music, Germans were in the forefront of the most exciting developments.
In the Bauhaus Arts and Crafts School, in the studios of the film company UFA, in the theater of Max Rinehardt, and the studios of the New Objectivity, cutting edge work was being produced. While many applauded these efforts, conservative and radical right-wing critics decried the new cultural products as decadent and immoral. They condemned Weimar Germany as a new Sodom and Gomorrah and attacked American influences, such as jazz music, as contributors to the decay.
Film in the Weimar Republic: The World of Husz, Paulinka, and Agnes
Universal Film AG (UFA)
Headquartered in Berlin, the UFA was the principle film studio in Germany, home of the German film industry during the Weimar Republic and through World War II. During the Weimar years the studio produced and exported an enormous, accomplished, and inventive body of work. Only an estimated 10% of the studio's output still exists. Notable directors based at UFA included Fritz Lang, who produced Metropolis (1927) and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1922), and F.W. Murnau, who produced Nosferatu.
An artistic movement born in the early 20th century, Expressionist elements manifested in numerous artistic mediums, including architecture, music, painting, theatre, and film.
Anthony Palmieri defines Expressionism as “a form of artistic expression that aims to externalize inner experience.” An expressionist artist will “make use of the enacting of fantasies or memories, and will employ strange effects and weirdly distorted settings to drive home nonrealistic aims.” Expressionist movies had horror themes whose fantastic storylines invoked strong emotional responses and granted wide artistic freedom.
Notable Expressionist films include The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Weine (1920)), Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922), Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) and Sunrise (F.W. Murnau, 1927). These films were united by highly stylized visuals, strange asymmetrical camera angles, atmospheric lighting, and harsh contrasts between dark and light. Shadows and silhouettes were an important feature of expressionism, to the extent that they were actually painted on to the sets in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
A Soviet filmmaker and cinema theorist, Dziga Vertov's “kino-glaz” (film-eye) theory of cinema proposed that the camera was an instrument similar to the human eye, and should be used to explore the actual happenings of real life.
Vertov aimed to create a cinema free from theatrical influence and artificial studio staging. Kino-glaz laid the foundation for the development of cinéma vérité—movement in French documentary filmmaking that emphasized improvisational and naturalistic use of the camera.
Visual Art in the Weimar Republic: Gotchling’s World
Dadaism & Photomontage
Dadaism was “born out of negative reaction to the horrors of World War I.” The Dadaists rejected the rationality and bourgeois nationalism they believed to be the cause of the war, and called for a celebration of nonsense, irrationality and chaos.
Dadaism manifested in various art forms, including literature, theatre, and graphic design. Photomontage, a technique in which the artist—“monteur” (mechanic), cut images from the newspapers and magazines and pasted them in collages—was employed as a “mechanical, impersonal alternative to what was considered the excessive subjectivism of German Expressionist art and attitudes.”
Notable photomontagists include George Grosz, John Heartfield, Raoul Hausmann, and Hannah Höch. One of Hannah Höch’s notable works, "Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser DADA durch die letzte weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands" ("Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany"), is a critique of Weimar Germany in 1919.
Homosexuality in the Weimar Republic: Baz’s World
Magnus Hirschfeld & the Institute for Sexual Research
Magnus Hirschfeld is considered one of the most important pioneers in sexology, and was the spearhead of sexual reform and liberation in Weimar Germany. He theorized that homosexuals belonged to a “third sex”: “something not complete and closed in itself, but rather, an intermediary state between different states of sexuality, of which there are an infinite number of possibilities.”
Hirschfeld’s theories were among the first attempts to explain and defend homosexuality. His Scientific Humanitarian Committee, founded in 1897, is credited as the first official gay rights organization. The Institur für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute of Sexual Research), founded by Hirschfeld 1919, housed his immense library, and provided education services and medical consultation. Much of the library was burned by the Nazis following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933.
Read about the treatment of homosexuals in concentration camps.
Homosexuality in Weimar Berlin through the eyes of novelist Christopher Isherwood.
Photographs of sexual culture in Weimar Berlin.