November 3, 2022

Theater Faculty Members Participate in Princeton University-HBCU Partnerships and Launch First Research Projects

Ten research collaborations between Princeton University faculty and their peers at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) have been selected to receive support through the Princeton Alliance for Collaborative Research and Innovation (PACRI). One collaboration, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House: A Multimedia Performance,” is led by Associate Professor of Theater and Interim Director of Theater Brian Herrera along with Spelman scholars and Lecturer in Theater and Music Theater Chesney Snow. These are the first projects to be launched through the groundbreaking alliance announced in May 2022.

brian herrera

Associate Professor of Theater Brian Herrera performing his one-person, multi-media, autobiographical play, I Was the Voice of Democracy. Photo by Kip Malone

The collaborative project led by Herrera involves the creation of an original multimedia installation instigated by the continued reverberations throughout the arts and humanities of Audre Lorde’s 1984 essay “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” The two-year collaboration engages the expertise of Spelman faculty member and philosopher Al-Yasha Williams and her access to the Audre Lorde archives at Spelman College, along with the Critical Intellect course methodology developed by Herrera at Princeton. In two parts, the project aims to explore how the techniques of performance research might engage the practice of Black feminist philosophical inquiry and then help to develop an original multimedia performance installation both inspired by and anchored in Audre Lorde’s text.

This spring, Princeton students in Herrera’s “Creative Intellect” course will study the life, work, and legacy of Audre Lorde. Spelman professors Al-Yasha Williams (Philosophy/Religious Studies) and T. Lang (Dance) will work in-person with the students to rehearse techniques of performance research including performative writing, critically responsive movement, and autobiographical storytelling. Building upon the work generated from the course, Herrera, Williams, and Snow will generate drafts of exercises, performance texts and design concepts that will carry over into developing a performance installation for the project’s second year. In 2024, the project will culminate in a final installation/performance at Spelman College in conjunction with the opening of the institution’s new MSC Center for Innovation and the Arts, along with publication of a co-authored work of original interdisciplinary scholarship documenting the entire collaborative project.

“The Lewis Center for the Arts already has a notable tradition of incubating big artful ideas so they might grow and blossom, often far away from Princeton. We see this project joining that tradition and hope that our experience of reciprocal engagement with Spelman college artists and scholars sparks many more big artful ideas and collaborations in the future.”
— Brian Herrera

Herrera is a writer, teacher and scholar presently based in New Jersey but forever rooted in New Mexico.  Herrera’s academic and artistic work 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. Also a performer, his autobiographical storywork performances (including I Was the Voice of Democracy and TouchTones) have been presented in venues large and small across the United States, as well as Beirut and Abu Dhabi. Herrera is 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 also serves as part of the Core Facilitation Team with ArtEquity. Herrera is presently at work on two scholarly book projects: Next! A Brief History of Casting and Starring Miss Virginia Calhoun. 

chesney snow gestures and smiles while talking to students standing in classroom setting

Lecturer in theater Chesney Snow teaches a Shakespearean Hip Hop class on Nov. 2, 2022 in the Godfrey Kerr Theater Studio. Photo by Jon Sweeney

A Drama Desk Award-winning theater artist, Snow is an educator, actor, director, beatboxer, and activist who frequently teaches in schools, prisons, theaters, and universities. He recently worked on Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club as a vocal foley artist for Skeleton Crew alongside Dominique Morisseau, J. Keys, Rob Kaplowitz, and Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Snow is a Broadway performer with extensive credits in regional theater including Soil Beneath (Primary Stages); Oo Bla Dee (Two River Theater); and the Princeton and Slavery Plays (McCarter Theatre). His additional credits include an original choreopoem The Unwritten Law (Dixon Place); the creation of the concert Upstream with composer Faye Ciao (Two River Theater & Syracuse Stage); composer and lyricist for Crowns (McCarter Theatre & Long Wharf Theater); and composer for the audio play Walks of Life (La Jolla Playhouse). Snow is also a pioneering figure in American beatbox culture. He originated the role of Boxman at Primary Stages and on Broadway in In Transit (Circle In The Square), and he co-founded the American Beatbox Championships. Snow produced and starred in American Beatboxer, which was placed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

A past guest artist for the Program in Theater, Snow joined the theater and music theater faculty as a lecturer this fall. Regarding his role in the project, Snow shares:

“This is the kind of work that thrills me and fills me with breath! One of the most exciting aspects of joining the faculty at the Lewis Center for the Arts is the ability to be immersed in this type of functional work as a creative and educator. As a deviser of theater, I work towards a documentary style of theater that includes movement, poetry, prose, music and verse to craft powerful storytelling that centers on building community and transforming our understandings.”
— Chesney Snow

All ten projects kicked off in September. Each project will receive funding from Princeton University for two years, up to a maximum of $250,000 per project. Read the full story with details about all the projects on the University homepage.

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