By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
Playwright, author, and longtime activist Larry Kramer will receive a special Tony Award this year to commemorate his "substantial contribution on behalf of humanitarian, social service [and] charitable organizations." Kramer, best known for his seminal works Faggots and The Normal Heart, co-founded Gay Men's Health Crisis in 1982 and ACT UP in 1987 in response to the devastating effects of HIV upon his peers during the early days of the pandemic. In 1997, he bequeathed millions of dollars to Yale University for the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies, creating one of the nation's first permanent tenured professorships focused upon the art and social dimension of the queer experience. To honor his contributions, The American Theatre Wing will award Kramer the Isabelle Stevenson Award, a noncompetitive award "given to an individual from the theater community who has made a substantial contribution on behalf of humanitarian, social service or charitable organizations," at their 2013 awards ceremony on June 9. Previous recipients of the Stevenson Award â€” named after the late president of the American Theatre Wing â€” include Eve Ensler, David Hyde Pierce, Bernadette Peters, and Phyllis Newman. Throughout his career, Kramer has faced opposition from within the theatre scene for his unapologetically political sensibilities, as Barbara Chai of the Wall Street Journal reports:
â€œWriters who are activists are very rarely taken seriously as artists,â€ Kramer said in an interview. â€œI look upon this recognition as acknowledgment that a serious writer can also be a serious activist, and no less an artist for it.â€
â€œWhen you think of all the great South American writers, theyâ€™re all huge political activists in their own country,â€ he added. â€œIt doesnâ€™t exist here. Youâ€™re frowned upon.â€
Kramer said so few playwrights in the U.S. write about politics, and instead focus on plays about personal relationships and families, â€œwhich I consider of lesser interest to me as a writer. If you compare it with Britain where every major playwright â€” David Hare, Howard Brenton â€“ has written about whatâ€™s going on in the country, that doesnâ€™t exist here.â€
Kramer said he has been â€œfrowned upon as a serious writerâ€ ever since his 1985 play â€œThe Normal Heart,â€ which is based upon his own experiences co-founding the Gay Menâ€™s Health Crisis in the early years of the AIDS epidemic.
Kramer said he had a difficult time getting â€œThe Normal Heartâ€ accepted by theaters because it was considered too political. â€œIt was turned down everywhere until Joe Papp [founder of The Public Theater] took it on,â€ Kramer said. â€œEvery major theater company, director, agent â€” no one would touch it. Theyâ€™d say so: â€˜Oh itâ€™s just too political.â€™â€The 2013 Tony Awards will be broadcast on CBS on Sunday, June 9. Will you be watching?