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An Interview with Jamie McGonnigal


Many people might not associate the downfall of Adam and Eve, the conflict of Cain and Abel, or the optimism and hope of Noah with the catastrophe of AIDS that has plagued us all for more than twenty years. Jamie McGonnigal, who directed the star-studded concert of Stephen Schwartz's and John Caird's Biblical musical Children of Eden to benefit the National AIDS Fund and to honor World AIDS Day, saw a connection right away. "The themes in Children of Eden are so universal and so timely that I thought the connection to World AIDS Day as a commemoration was not only justified, but obvious."

"We're in a time right now," he explains further, "especially with HIV and AIDS, in which there's a certain complacency. People think we're through the worst, but HIV and AIDS have been increasing over the years." McGonnigal wonders if this increase is due to the innocence of youth and/or ignorance about the disease. "This year, the CDC reported that more than 50% AIDS infections were under the age of 25. It's mostly because we see our friends who have lived with it for ten or fifteen years, and they seem fine. What we don't see is them taking the pills, and struggling. They see it as a right of passage. It's very important that we raise awareness, and start teaching again." McGonnigal sees this kind of destructive innocence as one of the main themes of Children of Eden, beginning with Eve. "It's not with malice that she went searching and looking for what was beyond, but with curiosity and an innocent desire for more knowledge." This curiosity and innocent desire, however, can be as fatal as Eve's was. "The youth of this country [need] to be educated about HIV/ AIDS."

Not every glass through which we view the show is so dark. Children of Eden is a complex musical with many angles, but one constant is the optimism expressed by all of the characters for a brighter future. This optimism also reflects the AIDS crisis. "There has to be hope not only in finding a cure, but in stopping this disease from happening. One of the other themes, and lyrics, is 'It's in our hands,' meaning the responsibility lies with us to make the difference, and if we don't accept responsibility for this, no one will." Indeed, responsibility is another primary theme of the musical, with all of the characters, at one point or another, learning to accept their share of blame for mistakes and bad things. By show's end, the people who survive to repopulate the world are those who take risks, and who take responsibility for those risks.

Jamie McGonnigal also takes chances with his art. A true triple-threat (he acts, directs, and produces), McGonnigal has performed in many workshops and off-off-Broadway productions by up-and-coming composers and playwrights. He hopes that other producers will take more risks with newer works. "The future will be exciting and vital if the producers would start realizing that shows like Avenue Q are a model. Of this season's new musicals, the only one that was completely original (book, score, and story) by a bunch of unknowns is the only critical success this year." And as a producer, director, and actor, he wants to influence that future in a positive way, and help spark new creation: "I hope to be one of the people who is encouraging and promoting new works by new writers."

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