On October 7, Princeton University’s Keller Center announced the winners of the 16th annual Innovation Forum. Innovations in Socially Distant Performance, a research project led by Lecturer in Theater and Producing Artistic Director of the Programs in Theater and Music Theater Seasons Elena Araoz, earned second place in the humanities and social sciences track. A $10,000 grant accompanies the award.
Innovation Forum is an annual competition and networking event showcasing Princeton research with commercialization, cultural or societal potential. Participants present their research in a three-minute presentation to the audience and a panel of judges, followed by a two-minute question and answer period. The Keller Center organizes the forum with support from the Office of Technology Licensing and the Humanities Council at Princeton. The event consists of two distinct tracks: a track for science and engineering innovations and a track for social sciences and humanities innovations. The top three entries in each track receive prize money totaling $30,000, funds which must be used to advance the research or commercialization of the innovation.
Founded in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Innovations in Socially Distant Performance (ISDP) is a research project which studies the aesthetics, philosophies, tools, and artists who are transforming the fields of virtual live performance and socially distant productions. The project’s website has been updated continually as a place to create community, share information, inspire invention, and document the expanding art form, with an emphasis on sharing the tools and techniques of a reimagined trade. Araoz, who has directed a number of virtual productions under the aegis of ISDP, leads the project with Princeton student and alumni researchers Miranda Allegar, B.T. Hayes, Minjae Kim, Reed Leventis, Katharine Matthias, and Kate Semmens.
ISDP has been selected to be archived by the U.S. Library of Congress in the Coronavirus Web Archive of select web-based evidence to document the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on every aspect of American life and communities. A “Notes from the Field” about ISDP’s discoveries is forthcoming in the academic journal Theatre Topics, and Araoz has had numerous speaking engagements about the future of theater-making after the surge of virtual productions during COVID. ISDP and the Lewis Center partnered in spring 2021 with McCarter Theatre, Princeton University Health Services, and The 24 Hour Plays on The Manic Monologues, which brings to life true stories – experiences submitted by resilient people across the world living with mental health challenges – and what they have to say about struggle and pain, and also triumph and joy. The project, conceived and directed by Araoz, was nominated for a 2021 Drama League Award. ISDP’s virtual production of Virginia Grise’s a farm for meme was dubbed by The New York Times as “form-busting” for its unique combination of “box puppets, shadow play, live film and archival footage into a gorgeous mise-en-scène that feels theatrical in its purposefully homemade aesthetic.” Currently, Araoz and ISDP’s students are conceiving of a new bilingual Spanish and English experience with Boundless Theatre Company.
Elena Araoz is a lecturer in theater and an award-winning theater and opera director, writer and actor who teaches courses in acting, directing and theater making. This fall, she assumed the role of Producing Artistic Director of the Theater and Music Theater Season at the Lewis Center. In this new position, Araoz oversees all aspects of realizing a growing and diverse season of productions, workshops and new play development readings. As a director of theater, opera and multimedia performance, she works internationally, Off-Broadway and across the country. This year she directed the acclaimed premieres of the operas Alice in the Pandemic and A Survivor’s Odyssey (White Snake Projects), the first virtual operas to live sync singers from remote locations, blended with CGI and facial motion capture. Other recent productions include Original Sound (Cherry Lane Theatre), Mac Wellman’s A Chronicle of the Madness of Small Worlds (New York Theatre Workshop Next Door), The Migration Plays (McCarter), Sweat (People’s Light), Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare Festival St. Louis), In Between (Walnut Street Theatre), and theatrical events for Anna Deavere Smith and the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, PEN America and The Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Her international credits include the world premiere 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), 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). Araoz is a New York Theatre Workshop Usual Suspect and the Drama League’s inaugural Beatrice Terry Artist-In-Residence. Upcoming, she will direct the opera I Am a Dreamer Who No Longer Dreams (which will next perform with Resonance Works Pittsburgh after its acclaimed premiere with White Snake Projects at the Paramount Theatre in Boston), and the commercial run of the new musical Havana Music Hall. Her virtual production of the musical Sugar Skull! (Mexico Beyond Mariachi) will once again replace its 30-city national tour. Currently playing is her recent direction of Marisela Treviño Orta’s new audio drama Nightfall (Audible).