February 15, 2022

Voices of First-Generation College-Goers Bloom in New Musicals

First-time actors and first-generation college students Sydney Hwang ’24 and John Venegas Juarez ’25 and director/faculty member Elena Araoz, who was also a first generation college student, can relate their real-life experiences with those of the characters in two new, short musicals that received their premiere production this fall at the Lewis Center. What defines success? Can you pursue the arts professionally? How can we tell the full breadth of stories? Learn how the creative team, audience, and the wider University engaged with these questions in order to actively support and spotlight the voices of first-generation college students at Princeton.

“As a faculty member and as a director here, how can I tell the full breadth of stories within our campus, within our world, if not every student feels like they can invest in the arts here? So I thought, OK, the best way to get people to invest is to make stories with, by, and about them.”
— Elena Araoz, Producing Artistic Director of the Theater and Music Theater Season

The new musicals opened on the Berlind stage at McCarter Theatre Center on November 5, 2021. In Adam Gwon’s Early Decision, Asian American high school senior Owen and his friends get caught up in the stress of college applications. When celebrating his acceptance into Princeton, what seems like a small mistake has huge impacts on his immigrant family. Late Bloomer, by Jaime Lozano and Georgie Castilla, draws from interviews with immigrant families, two recent alumni who were first in their family to attend college, and from the writers’ own experiences. The performances provided an inspirational start to a weekend of events across the University leading up to National First-Gen Day on November 8, which all provided opportunities for others to learn about the experiences and challenges of first-generation students. University President Christopher Eisgruber and Associate Dean of the College and Director of Programs for Access and Inclusion Khristina Gonzalez led a talkback on the themes of the musicals following the November 6 performance.


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