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The Great Work Begins: From isolation, a benefit supporting amfAR’s Fund to Fight COVID-19 comes together

Stage Directions • Design InspirationMarch 2021 • March 3, 2021

This story can be read below or in our March 2021 digitial edition







The Great Work Begins: scenes from Angels In America was named one of the New York Times Best Theatre of 2020 picks, noting that the production ‘showed how classic plays speak not only to their time but also predict their own futures — often, as here, with fury and regret.’

For 35 years, amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, has been committed to funding HIV research and to finding a cure for the 38 million people worldwide living with HIV. Understanding that epidemics and pandemics demand an immediate, unstinting response. This is why, since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, amfAR has joined the fight against COVID-19. They’re working during this global health crisis to identify gaps in current research efforts and quickly mobilize resources to fill them. For that purpose, amfAR and director Ellie Heyman (director in residence, Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater) came together to present The Great Work Begins: scenes from Angels in America, benefitting amfAR’s Fund to Fight COVID-19.

In their discussions, amfAR and all were struck by how many aspects of the coronavirus pandemic seem to mirror the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s. Heyman proposed an evening of scenes from Angels In America, with the selection of scenes to be guided by relevance to and resonance with the present emergency, and by the play’s insistence on imagination, vision and connection as sources of the hope, courage and endurance to overcome even the worst adversity, even in the worst of times. The resulting 60-minute broadcast streamed on’s YouTube channel on October 8, 2020. The recording is still available to view free at (Donations are also welcome.)

Paul Dano and Larry Owens in scene outside of a New York City funeral parlor

The team behind The Great Work Begins employed innovative techniques and technologies to create the performance’s unique look. By using Open Reel, a software that allows a film crew to remotely control an actor’s iPhone camera, Heyman and her team were able to work with all 15 of the production’s actors as they shot their scene while quarantined at home. Then, through collage editing overseen by creative director Paul Tate dePoo III, the team spliced the footage together to both create the illusion that the scene partners are sharing space—as they do in the given circumstances of Angels in America—while also maintaining their separate architectural lines and the isolated reality of COVID-19.

Working with the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, Heyman enlisted a cast of actors, artists and technicians who’ve explored Angels together, embracing both the familiar and the unexpected. “I’m touched and honored that amfAR and the remarkable Ellie Heyman decided to build this evening around Angels,” said Kushner. “For over thirty years, amfAR has been steadfastly determined to find a cure for AIDS. Like everyone else on the planet (except maybe some people), I’m praying that the novel coronavirus will prove easier to obliterate than HIV. But I know we’ll all do whatever’s required to defeat this scourge, and I know that amfAR, as it always has been, will be there in the heat of battle with us.  So, to everyone involved, and to everyone who watches the broadcast and decides to donate, thanks for supporting this heroic, essential American institution!”

The Great Work Begins was directed by Ellie Heyman, with creative direction & design by Paul Tate dePoo III, director of photography Justin Zweifach, production design Olivia Peebles, sound editor Edward Zisk, production manager Aoife Hough, and stage manager Joanna Muhlfelder. The piece was created by over 100 people, all isolated in their homes, often with family stepping in as crew members.

amfAR presents: The Great Work Begins: scenes from Angels In America is available to view free at
Donations still are welcome to amfAR’s Fund to Fight COVID-19 at  

Andrew Rannells’ Prior in scene of a hallucination meets a dream

Rannell’s eye line matches where needed for the final collage to appear looking at Vella Lovell’s Harper.

A New York City hospital scene edited to virtually bring together Roy Cohn (Glenn Close) and Belize (S. Epatha Merkerson).

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