Benjamin Burton Costume Design and Dramaturgy

I functioned as Dramaturg and Assistant Director for this production of Angels in America Part I: Millennium ApproachesThis production was presented in rep with a production of Angels in America Part II: Perestroika, which had a different director, creative team, and cast. However, I worked closely with the dramaturg for Perestroika, Abigail Schmitz, in our pre-production process, and we gave a shared dramaturgy presentation to both casts/creative teams at once.

I was awarded the Oscar Brockett Dramaturgy Award for my work on this production.

You can see a PDF of our Dramaturgy Presentation here.
My casebook for this production is available upon request.


Major Production Research Topics

  • The HIV/AIDS pandemic and US response
  • 1980s gay culture
    • Cruising, hanky codes, activism, and organized HIV response)
  • 1980s political context
    • Reaganism, the Cold War, aftereffects of McCarthyism
  • Roy Cohn
    • Biography, connections to and influence on Joseph McCarthy and Donald J. Trump
  • Ethel Rosenburg
  • Mormonism
    • Beliefs, specific culture, religious practices
  • Judaism
    • Orthodox Rabbinic dress and practice
    • Kabbalistic or Mystic Judaism (specifically summoning rituals, the Tree of Life, Zefirots/Sefirots, and Zazahots/Hidden Splendours)
    • The Jacob Cycle
      • Wrestling with an angel
      • Emphasis on lineage and legacy
      • Hypermasculinzation to get a father figure's blessing
  • Prescription drug abuse
    • Side effects, lasting legacy and relevance today
  • Climate change science and politics of the 1980s and today
  • Tony Kushner
    • Biography, notable works, politics
  • Angels in America production history

Notable Production Contributions

  • Scene transition conventions (prompted by research on gay cruising culture)
  • The Angel's entrance sequence (guided by research on Kabbalistic rituals and beliefs prompted by references in the script)
  • Coaching Louis on the political references in his "Democracy in America" monologue
  • Overseeing and advising the cutting of the script for our production
  • Directing review rehearsals of scenes with actors

Program Note

It’s 1985: fifteen years to the third millennium. The earth has grown old, and the weight of a new era looms over the world like a membrane stretched thin, poised to snap.

The AIDS pandemic continues to spread throughout the country, attacking gay men with an apocalyptic fury. Ronald Reagan is elected to serve a second term as President of the United States touting a new conservative economic policy and gutting social welfare programs. Justice Departments across the country engorge with conservative judges, shaping law for decades to come. The Cold War rages on, Mikhail Gorbachev has risen to power in the Soviet Union, and the world waits with bated breath, dreading the threat of nuclear Armageddon. Danger and uncertainty hang above the horizon—the end of the world seems at hand.

As the world changes, so too do its citizens. Relationships are tested, bonds bending under the weight of hard, new truths. Stasis is shattered. Choices must be made: remain and rebuild or migrate and move on? Repay one’s debts to love or first fulfill the obligations to the self? Angels in America: Millennium Approaches tells the story of people in crisis, trapped in an unraveling world, and the choices they make to cope.


Production Credits

Director: Fabrice Conte-Williamson
Costume Design: Riley Smith
Lighting Design: Brandon Wade
Set Design: Jenn Bobo
Photography: Emil Jraissati
Dramaturg for Angels in America Part II and Research Collaborator: Abigail Schmitz