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Alumna combines performance and activism in new theatre festival

Performance and activism go hand in hand, according to Jocelyn Prince (GC08), a Department of Performance Studies master of arts alumna who co-founded the first annual The New Black Fest theatre festival, held in late 2010 in Brooklyn.

Along with artistic partners Keith Josef Adkins and Jason Holtham, Prince brainstormed the inaugural event, created a six-person advisory board which includes performance studies and Northwestern University theatre associate professor Harvey Young as well two Pulitzer Prize winners, and reached out to a network of major theatre artists to ask them to volunteer their time and efforts.

The event¬†– meant to stir African American artists to “stretch, interrogate, and uplift” Black theatre in the 21st century¬†– drew more than 500 people. The multi-site event hosted free performances ranging from singing to poetry, standup comedy to musical theater.

“One of the goals of the festival was to work on expanding the notion of what theatre is,” Prince said, describing how the festival closed with an open mic night that brought many aspiring artists to the stage. Highlights included performances by Colman Domingo (currently on Broadway in Scottsboro Boys) and Eisa Davis (Pulitzer Prize finalist for Bulrusher who also hosted a successful fundraiser for The New Black Fest); public conversations with The New Black Fest Advisory Board members Suzan-Lori Parks (Pulitzer Prize winner for Top Dog/Underdog) and Lynn Nottage (Pulitzer Prize winner for Ruined); a series of new play readings; and many other events. A number of the events were held at BRIC Arts Media in Brooklyn.

Prince is currently an artistic associate at The Public Theater in Manhattan. Since completing her degree at Northwestern, Prince volunteered for President Obama’s campaign beginning with the Iowa Caucus, and worked on staff with Obama for America as a field organizer in Cincinnati from June of 2008 through the general election.

Prince wrote a poem about her experiences on the campaign called “America the Chimera Rears Its Ugly Head on the Eve of the 2008 Iowa Caucus” and performed it in The Encyclopedia Show at the Chopin Theater in Chicago in June of 2009. “I was inspired to write and perform this piece, in large part, because of Northwestern’s Performance Studies program’s emphasis on the significant relationship between art and activism,” Prince said.

Hear Prince’s performance at Chicago Public Radio.