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Mellon Grant Funds University Press “Global Encounters” Initiatives Benefitting Performance Studies and Theatre

Performance Studies
Department Chair
E. Patrick Johnson

Thanks to part of an $818,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a Northwestern University Press initiative entitled “Global Encounters,” the performance studies and theatre departments have launched three unique projects that will not only increase the diversity of arts programming within the School of Communication, but also hopefully attract a new, diverse applicant pool.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity, not only for the arts at Northwestern, but also for the community,” says performance studies department chair E. Patrick Johnson, who is the co-principal investigator on the grant.

Northwestern hasn’t had a strong connection to specifically black and Latino theatre history in Chicago, Johnson says, which makes this grant an incredible opportunity to increase outreach from Northwestern to the black and Latino arts communities in Chicago. “I hope that the visibility of these events will encourage more students to apply to and attend Northwestern,” he says.

Assistant Professor Ramon

A large part of the grant is reserved for Northwestern University Press for the purpose of documenting and digitally archiving – in print and online – the performances, scripts, and scholarly and community conversations around the three projects. Each of the three projects will ultimately manifest in the form of a book published by Northwestern University Press and edited by Northwestern performance studies and theatre faculty.  Johnson and performance studies assistant professor Ramon Rivera-Servera are the content curators for the book for the first project, “Solo/Black/Woman,” while Rivera-Servera and theatre associate professor Henry Godinez will edit and curate the book for the “Festival Latino” project. Finally, theatre professor Susan Manning and theatre assistant professor Harvey Young will edit and curate the book for the third project entitled “Black Theatre is Black Life.”

“We want the books to use performances as teaching tools, so when students are reading the scripts, they’ll have an excerpt of the show available,” Johnson explains, indicating that the texts will direct students to either online videos of relevant performances, or possibly DVD recordings.

Associate Professor
Henry Godinez

The inaugural performance for “Solo/Black/Woman” occurred Friday, Oct. 31 in the recently renovated Alvina Krause Studio in Annie May Swift Hall. Performance artist Robbie McCauley performed her one-woman show Sugar, which examines McCauley’s personal struggle and survival with diabetes as connected to slavery, war, work, romance, and food. A professor of theater at Emerson College in Boston, McCauley appeared on Broadway in the original cast of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange.

The performance of Sugar was documented on video by the School of Communication, a pattern that the series will follow. Johnson also conducted an interview with McCauley after the performance. One visiting artist per quarter over the next two years is planned for this project; the next artist is SoC alum Eileen Cherry Chandler (C73, GC97), scheduled to perform a short story on campus in early March.

Susan Manning

In addition to the quarterly artists, this project will feature two artists in residence, one for fall quarter of 2009 and one for fall of 2010. These artists, who have not yet been named, will teach a class and stage a performance, as well as possibly stage a community forum.

The “Festival Latino” project will debut in 2010 in conjunction with the Goodman Theatre’s biennial Latino Theatre Festival. The project will host workshops and community forums around the featured plays.

Assistant Professor
Harvey Young

The third project, “Black Theatre is Black Life,” a study of the history of black theatre in Chicago since 1930, will focus on the oral history of black Chicago directors, actors, and dancers interviewed through community forums both on and off campus. Courses will be taught around the topic, culminating in performances on and off campus. Dance will be an integral part of this project, with the Society of Dance History Scholars playing a role.

The faculty members hope the three books resulting from the projects will be published in the 2012-2013 timeframe, Johnson says.

The Program of African Studies (headed by interim director and performance studies professor D. Soyini Madison) also benefited from the Mellon Grant; Northwestern University Press will work with them to bridge the scholarly publishing gap between western and African scholars, according to Sani Umar, associate professor of African Studies and a co-principal investigator on the grant.