PLAYBILL VIP SPOTLIGHT: Bill Russell Shares Elegies of the AIDS Epidemic With College Students at Marymount Manhattan

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23 Jan 2014

Tony Award-nominated book writer and lyricist Bill Russell revisits his Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens — the song and poetry cycle he created with composer Janet Hood — with students, faculty and alumni of Marymount Manhattan College. takes a look at the production as part of our new Spotlight series. Organizations across the country can now create an authentic Playbill as part of this new venture.


"I just have loved doing it with college students," explained Elegies author and director Bill Russell, who often revisits the material in college settings, "because they don't know a lot about the subject matter. Most of them were born after this all happened — the height of the AIDS crisis — and it's shocking how little students their age know about this. Several of them had no idea how to even contract AIDS, so it's kind of a shocking indictment of the education system in certain cases. They want to know about this and the subject matter. It's very important, this story."

The story the students, faculty and alumni of Marymount Manhattan College will tell (Jan. 24-25 at the National Dance Institute uptown on 147th Street) is inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and Edgar Lee Masters' "Spoon River Anthology." Russell developed the piece in the late 80s alongside composer Janet Hood.

"I've done a number of productions both here and in the U.K., where it's done very frequently," continued Russell. "We — Janet Hood and I — updated the show. We did a production about a year ago in Kansas, and we updated some of the monologues and brought them into the present… This is that version."

With Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, which boasts a cast of approximately 40 members of Marymount Manhattan, Russell finds himself not only staging the piece, but also educating young adults on a time when AIDS ran rampant throughout the LGBTQ community in the 1980s.

"I knew nothing," admitted MMC sophomore Pasquale Piccinonno, a Musical Theatre major. "I took a health class in high school, but there is just so much more and in-depth information that I didn't know, which [Bill] is telling us. This disease played such a big role back in the 80s, and it just effected so many people, and it [has fallen on] deaf ears a little bit. Everyone forgot about it. It needs to be brought to attention, and I think this piece is a great way to do it."


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