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Lewis Center for the Arts presents "Putting It Together: A Program in Theater Celebration"

originally published: 09/19/2023

Lewis Center for the Arts presents "Putting It Together: A Program in Theater Celebration"

First performance of two-time Obie Award-winning, MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins ’06 adaptation of The Bacchae, Gurls, inaugurated the Wallace Theater at the new Lewis Arts complex in 2017, directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz ’06, who is currently resident director at Lincoln Center Theater. Photo by Larry Levanti.

(PRINCETON, NJ) -- Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts will present “Putting It Together: A Program in Theater Celebration” on Sunday, September 24, from 1:00pm to 4:30pm in the Wallace Theater at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton campus. The celebration, planned in conjunction with the theater program’s 50th anniversary in 2024, will inaugurate a permanent archive of the program’s history and invites current and past faculty, program directors, students, and alumni to share their experiences in the program.

The event is free and open to the public, with no tickets or advance registration required. Guests in need of access accommodations are invited to contact the Lewis Center at at least one week prior to the event date.

Although theater has been present on Princeton’s campus since the post-Civil War years, the academic Program in Theater did not launch until 1974. The full history of the Program currently exists in fragments and in the minds and memories of faculty, students, and alumni — those who helped to form and were formed by the program. The “Putting it Together” celebration, which will be recorded, will serve as the occasion to launch a permanent archive of the program’s history, including an accessible collection of written, oral, and visual materials.

“As current director of the Program in Theater, I am the most eager audience for the histories of our program,” said Jane Cox. “To imagine the future, we need to know who we are; to know who we are, we need to know how we got here. The oral histories that will be recorded at this event will help guide our program as we become a minor and fully inhabit our beautiful new spaces at Alexander Street.”

The celebration will begin casually at 12:30pm when doors to the Wallace Theater open and guest have an opportunity to mingle, followed by an official welcome at 1:00pm. The first panel about the history of the Program in Theater will feature founders, past directors, and faculty and will take place from 1:15pm to 2:30pm. The second panel, focused on alumni experiences in the program, will run from 2:45pm-3:30pm, followed by an open mic session to collect impromptu reflections and stories from participants and the audience. At 4:15pm, Cox will discuss the current and future state of the program. To close the afternoon, alum Dylan Blau Edelstein ’17 and Lewis Center Resident Music Director and Composer Vince di Mura will perform a song, followed by a reception for all guests. Throughout the afternoon, a variety of historical documents and a slideshow covering the program’s history will be on display in the CoLab of the Lewis Arts complex, adjacent to the Wallace Theater.

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Acclaimed artists who have taught playwriting or directed program students include Maria Irene Fornes, John Guare, Joseph Chaikin, Christopher Durang, Joanne Akalaitis, Naomi Iizuka, Doug Wright, Lauren Yee, and Edward Albee.

Certificate students have always driven the theater-making activities in the Program in Theater, proposing the projects for the season that are produced in their senior year. These can range from classics like Othello in which current American Repertory Theater Executive Director Kelvin Dinkins ’09 played the title role to new plays such as Heart!!!, which two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’06 wrote and directed. Some of this independent work has been in musical theater. Broadway actor and producer Adam Hyndman ’12 played both major roles, Pippin and Leading Player in his thesis production of Pippin. Broadway music director Andrea Grody ’11 wrote the book, lyrics, and music, as well as directed Strange Faces, a deeply moving and occasionally hilarious portrait of three families with children with Asperger’s Syndrome. Many times, students choose to do plays that present particular challenges. Jennie Snyder Urman ’99, creator, producer, and writer of Jane the Virgin, acted the central role in the powerful expressionistic drama Machinal. Jordan Roth ’97, Broadway impresario and president of Jujamcyn Theaters, performed the disturbing, political one-person show The Fever, not only in a campus theater but also in Princeton’s eating clubs. The productions that students have choosen and the program has presented explore a broad and stimulating span of theatrical possibilities.

Lewis Center for the Arts presents "Putting It Together: A Program in Theater Celebration"

Alum Sam Gravitte ’17, who recently starred as Fiyero in the Broadway production of Wicked, and cast in the 2016 Program in Theater production of Once. Photo by Frank Wojciechowski.

Current faculty panelists contributing their voices to the celebration, in addition to Cox, include University Lecturer, past Program Director, and past Lewis Center Chair Michael Cadden and Professor of Theater and founding Director of Music Theater Stacy Wolf. Former Princeton faculty members returning to campus for the event include past Program Director and Professor Alan MacVey and Princeton Lecturer in English and Theater, Emeritus, Robert N. Sandberg '70. Alumni guests include lighting and projection designer David Bengali '04, playwright and theater artist Alice Eve Cohen '76, filmmaker Lovell Holder '09, theater artist abigail jean-baptiste '18, Prospect Theatre Company co-founder, producer, and director Cara Reichel ’96, law professor and theater maker Paul Schiff Berman '88, Ph..D student and director Victoria Davidjohn ’19, and dramaturg Talvin Wilks '85.

The formerly distinct certificate Programs in Theater and Music Theater combined this fall to form the joint Program in Theater & Music Theater, which now offers a minor for Princeton undergraduates. The program invites all students, regardless of their experience level, to participate in the creation, study, and performance of theater and music theater. Approaching theater as an intensely collaborative art form, the program particularly fosters the creation of original work by students and working with innovative professional artists. Through several theatrical partnerships and initiatives on campus, in Princeton, Trenton and beyond, the program builds community inside and outside of the University.

Students can choose from over 20 courses offered by the Program in Theater & Music Theater each year including writing, performance, directing, music directing, design, community engaged theater, dramaturgy, performance history, performance theory, and criticism. For committed students in pursuit of a minor, the program offers four suggested pathways through the curriculum: Theater Maker, Music Theater, Performance Studies, and Community Engaged Theater. Free, skill-based co-curricular classes and workshops in performance, creation, music, design, and technology are also offered weekly throughout the semester to all students.

Visit the Lewis Center website for more information on this event, the Program in Theater & Music Theater, or any of the more than 100 performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts, and lectures presented each year by the Lewis Center for the Arts, most of them free.

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