The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Programs in Theater and Dance at Princeton University will present Hotel on Fremont, a new pop-punk musical written and choreographed by Princeton senior Marshall Dylan Schaffer using contemporary popular music and exploring relationships through music and dance to ask the question: How do we form our personal relationships and most importantly, how do we develop our relationships with ourselves? The production is directed by Associate Professor of Theater Brian Eugenio Herrra and features senior Katja Stroke-Adolphe with musical direction by Mona Seyed-Bolorforosh and arrangements by Lewis Center Resident Composer Vince Di Mura, and stage-management by senior Milan Eldridge. Performances are on February 7 and 8 at 8:00 p.m., and February 9 at 4:00 p.m. in the Hearst Dance Theater at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton campus. The show is free and open to the public, however advance tickets are recommended. This production deals frankly with adult situations and sexual content and may not be suitable for all audiences.
Schaffer, who is from Houston, Texas, is pursuing a degree in anthropology and certificates in theater, music theater, and dance at Princeton. He cites a number of influences that led to his proposal to create a new dance-theater work as his collective independent senior work for the Programs in Dance, Theater, and Music Theater.
The story behind Hotel at Fremont is drawn in part from Schaffer’s anthropological research into sex workers and the use of social media as a platform for the sex industry. He also notes the influence of acting in a production of Georges Feydeau’s 1907 play, A Flea in Her Ear, a farce of sexual infidelity and mistaken identity, set in part in a hotel. Hotel at Fremont similarly takes place in a luxury hotel lobby’s public and private spaces and involves a group of young people gathered there and the situations that ensue in their pursuit of relationships. Presenting this story as a musical was sparked by Schaffer’s interest in jukebox musicals, shows that build their story around existing songs or musical artists, in this case drawing from pop-punk music, and an interest in how choreography advances the story in the musical genre. The roots of this idea for a musical, in fact, go back to his application for admission to Princeton in which he presented this concept for a musical. During his freshman year, Schaffer learned about and sought out the senior thesis archives to view a recording of another new musical written by a Princeton student. Eamon Foley, Class of 2015, wrote Hero, drawing from contemporary pop music to tell the story of a young man transformed by his experiences in the Vietnam War, told through indie rock music, dance, and aerial choreography and based on interviews with Vietnam veterans and other research he conducted. This project convinced Schaffer that, in addition to pursuing academic work in acting, he wanted to write a new work for his senior thesis project in the Programs in Theater and Music Theater. He also notes the experience of being in the same dance company as Alex Quetell, Class of 2017, and seeing Quetell’s dance thesis, Excess, a performance that built and deconstructed a party to reveal the dissonances propagated in the human pursuit of technology and progress. Watching Excess led Schaffer to pursue the Program in Dance certificate.
Schaffer has been involved in theater since the age of three. He took a dance class in high school but began to actively pursue dance when he arrived at Princeton with a particular interest in hip-hop. During his first-year orientation, he discovered and joined DiSiac Dance Company as his introduction to dance at Princeton. The fall of his first year he was cast in the role of Milky White the Cow in the Lewis Center’s production of Into the Woods. In his sophomore year he choreographed the Princeton University Players’ production of the musical Heathers, directed by fellow member of the Class of 2020 Richard Peng, who will direct the Lewis Center’s upcoming production of the Sondheim musical, A Little Night Music. In addition to DiSiac, Schaffer has also been a member of the student dance company Expressions. He has performed in a number of works in the Program in Dance including the annual Princeton Dance Festival performing works by Robert Battle, Marguerite Hemmings, Bill T. Jones, and Hofesh Shechter.
Associate Professor of Theater Brian Eugenio Herrera, who is directing the new musical, has worked closely with Schaffer on development of the new piece advising on how the choreography, music, characters, tensions and relationships come together as a cohesive work. He is also helping the cast — mostly first-year students and sophomores who each have strengths as either dancers, singers or actors — to develop confidence in their lesser developed performance skills, and supporting them to take risks and be active collaborators in the development of the work. Herrera started his career as a professional theater director but has not directed a production in some time; this is his first directing assignment since arriving at Princeton in 2012. He also writes and performs his own original solo works and has noted his excitement in this atypical experiment among the Program in Dance and the Programs in Theater and Music Theater in collaborating in the development of a new work. Dance faculty member Aynsley Vandenbroucke is also an advisor on the project, along with guest artist John Heginbotham as choreographic advisor.
Herrera is, by turns, a writer, teacher and scholar, presently based in New Jersey, but with deep roots in New Mexico. 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. With Stephanie Batiste and Robin Bernstein, Herrera serves as co-editor of “Performances and American Cultures” series at NYU Press. He is also the Inaugural Resident Scholar for The Sol Project, an initiative dedicated to producing the work of Latinx playwrights in New York City and beyond. 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 twentieth-century actress/writer/producer. As a performer, Herrera is currently workshopping two new storywork shows, Boy Like That and Touch Tones, which he performed at the October 2017 Festival of the Arts that celebrated the opening the Lewis Arts complex. 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.
Leading the cast is senior Katja Stroke-Adolphe, who is an English/Pre-Law major and pursuing a certificate in theater. At Princeton she has performed with the student groups Theatre Intime, Princeton University Players, and Princeton Shakespeare Company, has stage-managed in the Program in Theater, and appeared in a January production of a new play by fellow senior Tessa Albertson, Feminine Products. Stroke-Adolphe is also a violinist and has performed in The Public Theater’s Public Works production of The Odyssey and at Lincoln Center in New York City. She is associate news editor for the student newspaper The Daily Princetonian. She plans a career as a public defender and spent the past two summers working for the Legal Aid Society.
Senior Milan Eldridge is stage managing the production as one of several projects that make up her senior thesis work in the Programs in Theater and Music Theater, including lighting design for the Lewis Center’s fall production of Intimate Apparel, stage management mentor for last month’s production of Feminine Products, and set design for the upcoming production of Macbeth. She has also worked in design, performance and stage management capacities in a number of other Lewis Center productions and with the student groups Theatre Intime, The Playwright’s Guild, and Pink House. Eldridge is majoring in visual arts with a focus on filmmaking.
The rest of the all-student cast includes Leila Abou-Jaoude, Ian Accetta, Daniel Benitez, Molly Bremer, Kaelani Burja, Emma Ferrandino, Grace Huegel, Erica de Lacerda, Jennifer Lawson, Colin Vega, Jay White, and Lydia Yi, and back-up singers Gaea Lawton and Reis White. Other members of the production team, in addition to director Herrera and stage manager Eldridge, include professional designers Tess James as lighting designer and Noelle Quanci as costume coordinator, and student Elliot Lee as assistant stage manager. Musicians under Seyed-Bolorforosh’s direction include students Ben Alessio, Gus Allen, Andrew Damian, Ned Furlong, Elliot Lee, and Katie Liu.
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.