The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Programs in Theater and Music Theater at Princeton University will present the first production of a new music theater work, We Were Everywhere, commissioned by the Lewis Center through the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Playwrights-in-Residence Fund. With book and lyrics by Joanna Evans and Shariffa Ali and music and lyrics by Avi Amon, the production is directed by Ali and performed by Princeton students. The musical is a fantasia on history and material culture across multiple universes and phases of clothing production, consumption and reuse, asking: What memory does our clothing hold, and what insight does it offer into the things we cannot see? Performances are on May 9, 10 and 11 at 8:00 p.m., and May 12 at 2 p.m. in the Wallace Theater at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton University campus. Tickets are $12 general public, $10 students, $12 seniors in advance; $17 general public day of the event.
The writers and director have been working since February with students in the spring semester course “Theater Rehearsal and Performance” to devise, write and develop the new work, exploring distinct environments over time related to clothing. The production unfolds from a gigantic pile of second-hand clothing in an East African port-city. As night falls the discarded items on this pile begin to piece together the journeys they have taken. We Were Everywhere follows their memories through time and space to a cotton plantation, a coat factory, a shopping mall, a high school prom, and a suitcase.
In the first half of the semester the artists led the students through a series of sensory workshops, and the students developed material based on their own personal clothing items and their memories. They pulled items from the Lewis Center’s costume shop and explored the feel and sensations of various pieces of clothing. The students conducted dramaturgical research based on images of clothing and the various worlds of clothing production. Amon worked with the students to create a sonic environment and sound concepts for each of these worlds, and the artists collaborated with the students to develop spoken word into lyrics to accompany the music, which is more an embodiment of the mood of the period or location than direct historical reference. The students’ voices were recorded and are used to create sampling that has become part of the musical score.
In the second half of the semester the artists and students began to work through a draft script and score, trying out and revising material and bringing the various scenes together into a holistic work. In recent weeks the team has been rehearsing and preparing to bring the production to an audience.
Shariffa Ali, who is directing the production, has worked at the Public Theater in New York City since 2013 where she has served in numerous capacities often piloting new roles that explore her interest in curating radical spaces of hospitality, equity, inclusion, diversity and promoting anti-racism throughout the institution. She has served as assistant director to mentor Cynthia Nixon for Rasheeda Speaking, Steve and Motherstruck!. She directed Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed at Princeton, Dominique Morriseau’s Detroit 67 and Jackie Sibblies Drury’s We are Proud to Present… at Yale University, and directed, choreographed and co-produced Still at the Alchemical Theater Laboratory. She was a producer for two years on The 24 Hour Plays: Nationals, three days of workshops for actors, writers, directors and producers 25 years of age and under. She is a member of Black History Museum, a collective of interdisciplinary artists brought together by Here Arts and Smoke & Mirrors Collective, and on the advisory committee of Africa’sOut!, an initiative geared towards advancing radical change through the power of art and activism, particularly supporting artists, initiatives and institutions from Africa and its Diaspora that celebrate freedom of creative expression. She was born in Nairobi to Kenyan and Ethiopian parents and raised in Swaziland and South Africa and is a graduate of the University of Cape Town’s select Theater and Performance division and holds a B.A. Honors degree.
Avi Amon is a Turkish-American composer, sound artist, and educator. He is a sought-after collaborator in theater, film, dance and experimental art, and he is the recipient of a 2019 Jonathan Larson Grant. His recent credits include Paul Swan is Dead and Gone with Claire Kiechel at The Civilians; Salonika at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Ground Floor; and The White City with Julia Gytri at Yale Institute for Music Theatre and O’Neill National Music Theater Conference, which was a Richard Rogers Award Finalist; Rated Black with Kareem Lucas at New York Theater Workshop; Jeune Terre with Gabrielle Reisman at Playwrights Center; The Fisherman directed by Zoey Martinson at Pan African Film Festival; and several sound installations in a 100-year-old grain silo in Buffalo, New York, with Torn Space Theater, to be featured at the 2019 Prague Quadrennial. Currently in development are Inshallah/Mashalla, a three-dimensional audio opera at Target Margin Theater; scores for several films premiering at festivals around the globe; and ongoing collaborations with choreographers Hadar Ahuvia and Abdul Latif. Amon has been in-residence with Exploring the Metropolis at at Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning, Hi-ARTS, Judson Arts, Mana Contemporary, New Dramatists, Target Margin, Weston Playhouse, and Yale, among others. He is the resident composer at the 52nd Street Project and teaches a variety of collaborative art-making courses at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he received his M.F.A. in Musical Theatre Writing.
Joanna Evans is a South African theater artist, playwright and performance scholar based in New York. Both her scholarly research and creative work explore improvised and ensemble performance practices, material animacy, queer intimacy, decolonial forms, communal knowledge, and historical memory. Her plays have toured throughout South Africa, as well as to international festivals in Italy, Germany, Iran, Hungary, Réunion and the United States. These include Four Small Gods at Imbewu Trust Scribe Award; Patchwork, awarded Best International Performance at Hamedan Arts Festival; and The Year of the Bicycle, winner of the Silver Ovation Award at South African National Arts Festival and published by Junkets Press. She is a co-founder of Pillow Fort Theater, one of South Africa’s first Theater for Early Years companies, which conducts experimental research into performance for pre-verbal audiences. Her article “Unsettled Matters, Falling Flight” was winner of the 2017 TDR: The Drama Review Student Essay Contest and was published in the journal’s fall 2018 issue. She holds a B.A. in Theatre and Performance from the University of Cape Town, and an M.A. in Performance Studies from New York University, where she is currently working towards her doctorate.
Eleven Princeton students have been cast to originate the roles in We Were Everywhere, having the unique opportunity to work directly with the writers and composer in the process of developing a new musical. The cast includes seniors Jessica Bailey, Jasmeene Burton, and Tamia Goodman; junior Benjamin Kimmel; sophomores Amy Abdalla, Minjae Kim, Akash Kushwaha, Katie Massie, and Hannah Wang; and first-year students Leila Abou-Jaoude and Riley Bona. Under Anna Ebbesen’s musical direction are sophomore Maddie Wu on keyboard, first-year student Simon Rosen on bass, guest artist Mark Cristofaro on drums/percussion, sophomore Jonathan Salama on guitar, and sophomores Emiri Morita and Natalie O’Leary on violin. Ebbesen and Amon are co-orchestrators.
Professional guest artists and staff on the production team include You-Shin Chen as set designer, Sarah Woodham as costume designer, Kay Richardson as sound designer, Jennifer Newman as choreographer, Sophia Zhu as assistant set designer, Meaghan N. Finlay as stage manager, and recent alumnus Magda Stankowska as rehearsal stage manager. Students taking on production roles include senior Victoria Davidjohn as lighting designer, junior Chamari White-Mink as assistant director, sophomore Maddie Wu as assistant music director, senior Ryan Ozminkowski as student producer, and sophomore Daniel Benitez and first-year student Isabella Hilditch as assistant stage managers.
Tickets may be purchased in advance through University Ticketing online at tickets.princeton.edu, in person at the box offices at Frist Campus Center and Lewis Arts complex, or by calling 609-258-9220. Tickets remaining will be available at the box office prior to performances.
To learn more about this event, the Programs in Theater and Music Theater, and the over 100 performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts, and lectures presented each year at the Lewis Center, most of them free, visit arts.princeton.edu.