A Past Becomes a Heritage: The Negro Units of the Federal Theatre Project
March 30, 2021
7:30 PM (ET)
FREE and open to public; Zoom registration required
A Princeton Humanities Council Magic Project launches a partnership between the Lewis Center for the Arts and New York city based CLASSIX, a collective of Black theater artists and scholars dedicated to expanding the classical theater canon through an exploration of dramatic works by Black writers. This kick-off event features recorded readings by professional actors of excerpts of plays written by artists in the New Deal-era Federal Theatre Project’s Negro Units, as the units were titled then. The readings serve as a springboard for a panel-led conversation on this moment in Black and theatrical history. With Autumn Womack (African American Studies and Department of English), Kinohi Nishikawa (African American Studies and Department of English) and Arminda Thomas (CLASSIX), moderated by Michael Dinwiddie (NYU).
The event is free and open to the public. The event will be live captioned and a closed captioned video recording of the event will be made available. Viewers in need of other access accommodations are invited to contact the Lewis Center at least 2 weeks in advance at LewisCenter@princeton.edu.
Big White Fog
Directed by Dominique Rider
Set in 1922, Theodore Ward’s play Big White Fog explores the divisions in a family through debates around Garveyism and socialism. The play premiered in the Chicago Unit in 1938 and later premiered in New York in 1940. Ralph Ellison wrote, “Big White Fog is like no other Negro play. The author takes a movement which has been passed off as a ludicrous effort by Negroes to ape British royalty and reveals in it that dignity of human groping which is characteristic of all oppressed peoples.”
Directed by Christina Franklin
Natural Man by Theodore Browne premiered in 1937 as part of the Seattle Negro Unit. Originally written as a folk opera, the story is an adaptation of the legend of John Henry and is set in the 1880s. In 1941, the piece was produced in New York by the American Negro Theatre in Harlem, without much of the original music. Theodore Browne was the assistant director and resident playwright of the Seattle Negro Unit.
Directed by Kimille Howard
Liberty Deferred was a living newspaper written by Abram Hill and John D. Silvera for the New York Unit in 1938. The themes of voter suppression and lynching in this experimental and satirical play continue to resonate to this day. Written as a series of vignettes, Liberty Deferred is a stinging and bold journey through history.
PARTICIPATING GUEST ARTISTS
Photo courtesy Christina Franklin
CHRISTINA FRANKLIN is a Brooklyn based theatre artist. She received a BFA in Directing, Playwriting, and Production from the University of The Arts and went on to work with various companies including The Lark, National Black Theatre, and The Signature. Selected directing and associate credits include The Last Five Years (Out of the Box Theatricals), Don’t Stay Safe (Prospect Theatre Company), The Wolves (The Professional Performing Arts School), For Colored Girls…, White Noise (The Public Theater) and Slave Play (NYTW). She has written and directed for TADA! Youth Theater, earning several National Youth Theatre awards and nominations. In addition to directing and writing, Christina currently teaches at The Professional Performing Arts School. Matthew 5:14! Learn more at Christina’s website
Photo courtesy Kimille Howard
KIMILLE HOWARD is a New York based director, deviser, writer and filmmaker. She is an Assistant Stage Director at the Metropolitan Opera and recently worked on the new production of Porgy and Bess. She is the newly appointed Artistic Director of the Lucille Lortel Theatre’s NYC Public High School Playwriting Fellowship, a cofounder of the Black Classical Music Archive, and the Series Producer for American Opera Project’s Music as the Message. Select directing credits: Mona Monsour’s In The Open (Western Connecticut State University), Chesney Snow’s Soil Beneath (Primary Stages/59E59), Pascale Armand’s $#!thole Country Clapback (Loading Dock Theatre), The Fellowship Plays (Lucille Lortel Theatre Foundation), Jeesun Choi’s A Light Staggering (EST), Rodney Witherspoon II’s Tidwell: or the Plantation Play (Samuel French OOB Short Play Festival – winner), Jon Kern’s Low Power (EST), BLACK GIRLS ARE FROM OUTER SPACE by Emana Rachelle (National Black Theatre), Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew (TheatreSquared) and Gabriel Jason Dean’s TRIGGERED (Cherry Lane Theatre). Her work has also been seen at The Circle in the Square Theatre Circle Series, The Lark, JAGFest, NYU, Sea Dog Theater, and Atlantic Acting School among others. On Broadway she worked as Assistant Director on Ain’t Too Proud. She has worked with Des McAnuff, Rebecca Frecknall, Ruben Santiago Hudson, Emily Mann, Stephen Wadsworth, Lorca Peress and more. Her recent Fellowships include a New York Theatre Workshop 2050 Fellowship and the Manhattan Theatre Club Jonathan Alper Directing Fellowship. She is a current member of The New Georges Directors Jam and a participant in New York Stage and Film’s inaugural NYSAF NEXUS project. Learn more at Kimille’s website
Photo by Raphael Saddick
DOMINIQUE RIDER is a director and dramaturg based in Brooklyn, New York. They believe in l[i/o]ving like it is the end of the world. Dominique’s work is concerned with answering the question: “What is a world unmade by slavery?” They have worked as a director and collaborator at Roundabout, The New Group, Audible, BRIClab, NYU, Harlem9, Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Haiti Cultural Exchange, MCC, The Old Globe, The Lark, Soho Rep, The Atlantic, The Bushwick Starr, Clubbed Thumb, Long Wharf, Flux Theatre Ensemble, WP, and The Movement Theatre Company. They are the director in residence for the National Black Theatre through 2022, a 2021 BRIClab resident artist, a 2019 NAMT directing observer, and an inaugural member of Roundabout Theatre Company’s Directing Group. Learn more at Dominique’s website
CLASSIX was created by theatre director Awoye Timpo to expand the classical canon through an exploration of dramatic works by Black writers. We define these classic works as plays by authors of African descent from around the world that speak profoundly to the times in which they were written and resonate deeply with our own. CLASSIX engages artists, historians, students, professors, producers and audiences to launch these plays into the public imagination and spark productions worldwide.
CLASSIX began in 2017 as a series of staged readings in collaboration with the Martin E. Segal Center. In 2019, CLASSIX worked with Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA) to produce an ongoing series of readings. The first play in this series, Alice Childress’s Wedding Band, was produced in February 2020.
CLASSIX engages the larger narrative of these plays through conversations with historians and theatre makers on its podcast series, social media platforms, and in live events; educational outreach; new writings and analysis; and an archive of information on its website.