The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University will present DIY Theater Fest, a weekend of original performances by five seniors in the Program largely drawn from their personal experiences. Performances are at various times beginning Thursday, April 25 at 7:00 p.m. through Sunday, April 28 at 10:00 p.m. in the Donald G. Drapkin Studio and in the CoLab at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton campus. The festival is free and open to the public; seating is limited and on a first-come, first-seated basis.
The seniors proposed and developed these five original works over the course of the past several months as their senior independent work in pursuit of certificates in the Programs in Theater and Music Theater. They have been refining these works since early February through a spring semester course, “Creative Intellect,” co-taught by professional director and Lecturer in Theater Elena Araoz, theater and performance scholar, solo performer and Associate Professor of Theater Brian Herrera, and the Lewis Center’s Resident Music Director and Composer Vince di Mura. The title DIY Theater Fest originates from the challenge to make these performances most reliant on the skills and talents of the performers and not on significant production elements, to the point where any production elements – costumes, props, – could fit into a single small trunk.
I’m Just Fine by Will Alvarado is a musical about one student’s four-year journey through Princeton. Taking inspiration from musical revues, cabarets, and Princeton University Player’s annual all-freshmen revue Sex on Broadway, I’m Just Fine centers around the main character, Will, as he struggles and sings his way through a number of situations related to student life at a university. Through his connections with others, such as his parents, teachers, and friends, he is able to deal with any trial he faces, all while maintaining an acceptable GPA, a long-term, long-distance relationship, homesickness, and the general terror that comes from graduating and voyaging out into the real world.
Alvarado, the head writer and lead actor of I’m Just Fine, hails from North Tonawanda, New York, and is currently a senior in the Department of Chemistry pursuing certificates in the Programs in Theater and Music Theater. This musical is his first attempt at playwriting. “All my time on this campus has been spent working on musicals that others have written about their own experiences,” Alvarado said. “But just a year ago, during thesis proposals, I had this incredible epiphany of what it might be like to write my own story, my story, and put it up on that stage for everyone to see.” Over his theatrical career, Alvarado has been involved in nearly every aspect of making theater with his favorite positions being his dual roles of Kevin Rosario/Piragua Guy in the Princeton University Players’ production of In the Heights in 2017, as lighting designer for last year’s Lewis Center production of Next to Normal, and his music theater thesis role of Paulette in last fall’s production of Legally Blonde. Alvarado has spent the past four years at Princeton entrenched in the performing arts, where he has been technical director for the student-run musical theater group Princeton University Players for three years and treasurer and performer in Princeton’s Jewish a cappella group, Koleinu.
Joining Alvarado as the cast for his musical are Princeton senior Jasmeene Burton, Princeton first-year students Ian Johnson and BT Hayes, and two friends who are students at State University College at Buffalo — junior Kaeli McGinnis and senior Rachael Strowger.
The World is My Therapist is a new musical created and performed by senior Ben Diamond in which he, as he puts it, “sings his heart out before it’s torn out of him by the sharks in the entertainment industry!” He continues, “This musical is a rumination on my life as both a typical and not so typical gay theater kid who uses his friends and loved ones to work through his problems instead of a qualified psychoanalyst.” As he finishes college and enters the professional performing world, he is forced to ask the questions: Why does he perform and who is he? What makes a person need to get onstage and be vulnerable in front of an audience?
Diamond is a sociology major pursuing certificates in both theater and music theater. He originally hails from San Francisco and plans on pursuing a career in the performing arts after Princeton. He has appeared in several shows through the Lewis Center, namely Annie and Rose, Singin’ in the Rain, Hairspray!, Into the Woods, Gurls, and Next to Normal. He also co-devised his theater certificate thesis show, What You Will: A Collection of Scenes from Twelfth Night, in October with three other seniors. Diamond is a member of the Princeton Triangle Club, having performed in the Club’s original musicals for the past four years, as well as Shere Khan A Cappella and BodyHype Dance Company. His regional theater credits include The Crucible at Princeton Summer Theater; Chicago at the Hangar Theater in Ithaca, New York; and Spamalot, Shrek: The Musical, and Mary Poppins at The Muny in St. Louis.
Witch is an autobiographical solo show written and performed by senior Chase Hommeyer, which she describes as, “a thrilling, fantastical coming of age story in 70 minutes.” Audiences are invited to follow Chase, a witch, and a stuffed animal, “Pink Baby,” as together they make peace with depression, reflect on family history, and play in a secret world of childhood glee. Weaving in and out of real-life anecdotes and the world of magic and dreams, the show offers a story of, as Hommeyer puts it, “a young girl embracing the source of her fire.”
Hommeyer is a theater certificate student from San Francisco. Her artistic work is informed by 15 years of theater performance and youth training at the American Conservatory Theater. At Princeton, she has performed in Halfway Home, We Are Proud to Present…, Gurls, Mad Forest, A Streetcar Named Desire, Blue Heart, and The Vagina Monologues. She describes her work as weaving together poetry, confessional personal writing, and intense physicality, and visiting the depths of mental illness, sexuality, tenderness, and “fire.” In the academic world, Hommeyer is a sociology major and pursuing a certificate in statistics and machine learning, and her research applies computational statistics to address pressing social issues, most recently working at Princeton’s Eviction Lab to study the housing crisis. She aspires to be a methodologist whose work addresses inequity in knowledge-making by developing collaborative research methodologies that incorporate knowledge and voices ignored by academia.
Nathan Sam Nghĩa Phan’s Type A is a show about his discovery of his Asian American identity through the exploration of stereotypes that exist within the Asian American community. “Although I was born and have lived my entire life in California,” he says, “I still get asked questions like ‘Where are you really from?’ and ‘How did you learn to speak English so good?,’ making me think about the ways my Asian American identity is one that is perceived as one-dimensional and ‘Other’.” He notes that his experiences with the first-generation and low-income communities, issues of gender, sexuality, and mental health, and artistic interests have become silenced by questions that essentially typify him. “So, I created this show,” he explains, “as a way to unpack and rebuild the complexities of my Asian American identity and the ways it intersects with other parts of my life. In these one-dimensional stereotypes of Asian Americans, I believe there exists truths in my identity, and I hope to understand the ways to not only grapple with the pains and struggles of identity but to become empowered by it.”
Phan is a senior majoring in comparative literature, focusing on Japanese, Mandarin, and Vietnamese languages and popular culture, and pursuing a certificate in theater. Growing up in the Los Angeles suburb of Rosemead, California, and coming from a Vietnamese immigrant family, he notes he had no experience with theater until coming to Princeton. He began his journey with theater at the end of his first year, when he, Kathy Zhao, Class of 2017, and Tri Le, Class of 2019, founded Princeton East West Theater, an Asian American, all-inclusive theater company that strives to make theater at Princeton accessible and inclusive for students regardless of race or experience. Through Princeton East West Theater, Phan has helped organize a no-auditions scene showcase, a symposium bringing together Asian American theater-makers, and directed his first show She Kills Monsters as a joint-production with the student group Theater Intime. He has been involved in Lewis Center productions of Charles Francis Chan Jr.’s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery and Gurls, and other Theater Intime productions. Outside of the theater community, Phan also works with members of the first-generation, low-income community through the Scholar Institute Fellows Program and mentors other students through the LGBTQIA+ Peer Educator Program and the Lewis Center’s Student Peer Arts Advisors. He notes that a course in Asian American history with Professor Beth Lew-Williams ignited his passion for Asian American studies, and the performance course “Body and Object: Making Art that is both Sculpture and Dance,” co-taught by Martha Friedman and Susan Marshall, inspired him to imagine performance in his own terms.
The Girl Who Thinks Too Much and the People She Interviewed is an autobiographical piece written and performed by senior Julia Yu that follows a chronic overthinker through her summer interviewing Asian Americans, a breakup, and beyond. Inspired by a desire to explore her own Chinese American identity, as well as the shared human experience, she brings the audience along on her journey every step of the way, from Princeton to San Francisco, to New York City, and to China. Her self-reflective story that is equally humorous, serious, depressing and inspiring combines docudrama monologues, the challenges associated with creating art, and the lessons she has learned from the process.
Yu is a senior pursuing a degree in computer science and a certificate in theater. She took her first acting course in fall of her junior year with professional actor Nehassaiu deGannes. She has performed in the Lewis Center’s production of The Book of Miaou, written by Migdalia Cruz and commissioned by the Lewis Center and directed by faculty member Elena Araoz, and in rén(shān/hǎi), a piece written and choreographed by fellow senior Michelle Yeh as part of the dance thesis production Edit & Revise. In 2018, she received the Program in Theater’s Award for Outstanding Work by Underclassmen and was a recipient of a grant from the Lewis Center’s Sam Hutton Fund for the Arts, which she used to gather material for her solo show. Outside of acting, Yu has been studying improvisational comedy for five years, taking classes at the Peoples Improv Theater and UCB Theater in New York City and BATS Improv in San Francisco. On campus, she founded Child’s Play Improv Comedy and is also part of the International Food Co-op. Yu was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and was later raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. She blogs at juliayu.me, on topics ranging from design to her Princeton experience.
Each piece will be performed in a repertory festival format at least three times over the course of the weekend with two shows on the evening of April 25, four shows on April 26 from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., five shows on April 27 from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., and five shows on April 28 from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. The full schedule is available at http://arts.princeton.edu/diy/.
On May 3 sophomore Nora Aguiar will host “DIY Theater Fest: In Conversation,” a post-festival discussion as part of the Creative Intellect series, interviewing each of the five seniors on the experience of developing these new performance works and moderating a conversation among the creators and the audience. The conversation, scheduled for 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. in the Donald G. Drapkin Studio, is free and open to the public.
Araoz teaches courses in acting, directing and theater making. As a director and actor, she works internationally, Off-Broadway and across the country. The Latinx Theatre Commons named her creation of Two Arms and a Noise, a physical theater piece about the life of an indigenous Peruvian woman, as one of “thirty-six plays and writers that everyone should know;” it most recently played in Bucharest, Romania. Her latest productions include Mac Wellman’s A Chronicle of the Madness of Small Worlds at New York Theatre Workshop Next Door, María Irene Fornés Mud with Boundless Theatre Company, Dipika Guha’s Azaan with Oregon Symphony, Catherine Filloux’s Kidnap Road with La MaMa, Octavio Solis’ Prospect with Boundless Theatre Company and Virginia Grise’s She-She-She with The New Ohio. Her international credits include the world premiere of Li Tong Chen’s The Power in Beijing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Prague Shakespeare Festival. Opera productions include La Traviata (New York City Opera at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House), Lucia di Lammermoor (Opera North), Falstaff (Brooklyn Philharmonic at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House), choreography for Latin Lovers (Glimmerglass Opera), and choreography for Sir Jonathan Miller’s La Traviata (Vancouver Opera).
In addition to being a member of the Program in Theater faculty, Herrera is affiliated with Princeton’s Programs in Gender and Sexuality Studies, American Studies and Latino Studies. His work, whether academic or artistic, examines the history of gender, sexuality and race within and through U.S. popular performance. He is author of The Latina/o Theatre Commons 2013 National Convening: A Narrative Report (HowlRound, 2015). His book Latin Numbers: Playing Latino in Twentieth-Century U.S. Popular Performance (Michigan, 2015) was awarded the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism and received an Honorable Mention for the John W. Frick Book Award from the American Theatre and Drama Society. He is presently at work on two book projects: Casting, A History and Starring Miss Virginia Calhoun, a narrative portrait of a deservedly obscure early 20th-century actress/writer/producer. As a performer, Herrera created the autobiographical show I Was the Voice of Democracy and is currently workshopping two new storywork shows, Boy Like That and Touch Tones.
Di Mura is a composer, arranger, jazz pianist and musical director, appearing on concert stages and theaters throughout North America, Canada, Europe and Latin America. He has conducted seasons at theaters through the U.S. Best known for his arrangements of “My Way: A Tribute to the Music of Frank Sinatra,” “Simply Simone,” and “I Left My Heart: A Tribute to the Music of Tony Bennett,” he has musical directed productions of these shows at a number of theaters. He has been commissioned for original compositions and arrangements by many regional professional theater and university theater and dance programs. Di Mura received composition and jazz fellowships from the William Goldman Foundation, Temple University, Meet the Composer, CEPAC, the Union County Foundation, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Puffin Cultural Forum and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation.
To learn more about this event, the Program in Theater, and the more than 100 other performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts, and lectures presented by the Lewis Center, most of them free, visit arts.princeton.edu.