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Kelsey Pharr, Jr. Speaker Series

Curated by theatre faculty Masi Asare and Roger Ellis, this new series hosts artist-scholars who represent diversity and inclusion in the performing and media arts. Our inaugural speaker, Jeff Award-winning theatre artist and alumna Lili-Anne Brown joined us virtually on October 16. This winter we welcome director and alumna Jess McLeod on Friday, January 29 followed by composer Brian Quijada in the spring.

The speaker series is named after Kelsey Pharr, Jr., who was among the first Black actors to grace a Northwestern stage. The son of a Miami civil rights leader, Pharr performed in The Waa-Mu Show in 1937 and 1939, was featured in four Broadway shows, and achieved great musical success with the group the Delta Rhythm Boys.

Kelsey Pharr, Jr.
with Louise Foster in Don’t Look Now, The Waa-Mu Show (1937)
with the Delta Rhythm Boys
Roger Ellis

“We are proud to honor the memory and achievements of this extraordinary Black artist who graced Northwestern’s stages nearly 100 years ago,” said Ellis, assistant professor of theatre. “We hope that by uplifting the legacy of Pharr we can help build a future that celebrates a wider array of perspectives in music theatre.”

Masi Asare

“I hope that these artists can encourage us all to expand our understandings of what music theatre can be, and who makes music theatre,” said Asare, assistant professor of theatre and performance studies.


Virtual Artist Talk and Q&A

Jess McLeod

Friday, January 29
Q&A moderated by SoC faculty members Masi Asare and Roger Ellis


A Triptych of Films by Jess McLeod

Available to stream now until Friday, February 12th


A special screening of three short films made during quarantine by Northwestern MFA in Directing alum and social justice advocate, Jess McLeod. These timely films will stream for a limited time through special arrangement with A Red Orchid Theatre, Ari Afsar, Chloe Booher, Blu Rhythm Collective, Pinqy Ring, and Jess McLeod.

About the Artists

LILI-ANNE BROWN is a native Chicagoan who works as a director, actor and educator, both locally and regionally. Recently she helmed the world premieres of Ike Holter’s Lottery Day at Goodman Theatre and Put Your House in Order at LaJolla Playhouse. The former artistic director of Bailiwick Chicago, she directed Dessa Rose (Jeff Award), Passing Strange (BTA Award), See What I Wanna See (Steppenwolf Theatre Garage Rep), and the world premiere of Princess Mary Demands Your Attention by Aaron Holland, while producing several other award-winning shows during her tenure. Other directing credits include School Girls; or The African Mean Girls Play (Goodman Theatre), The Color Purple (Drury Lane Theatre), P.Y.G. or the Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle (Jackalope Theatre), The Total Bent (Haven Theatre w/About Face), Caroline, or Change (Firebrand Theatre w/TimeLine), Tilikum by Kristiana Colon (world premiere, Sideshow Theatre), Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (American Blues Theatre), Hairspray (Skylight Music Theatre), The Wolf at the End of the Block (16th Street Theatre), Marie Christine (Boho Theatre), Peter and the Starcatcher (Metropolis Performing Arts), The Wiz (Kokandy Productions; BroadwayWorld Award),  Xanadu (American Theatre Company), Jabari Dreams of Freedom by Nambi E. Kelley (world premiere, Chicago Children’s Theatre), American Idiot (Northwestern University); the national tour of Jesus Snatched My Edges; and Little Shop of Horrors, Unnecessary Farce, Cabaret, Sweet Charity, and The 25th…Spelling Bee, among others, at Timber Lake Playhouse where she was an Artistic Associate.  She has received 3 Jeff Awards for Best Director of a Musical. Member of SDC, AEA, SAG-AFTRA, and a graduate of Northwestern University.

JESS MCLEOD specializes in new work about American otherness and recently served as Resident Director for the three-year run of Hamilton Chicago. Regional credits include There’s Always the Hudson (Woolly Mammoth**paused for COVID), Pride and Prejudice (Long Wharf) and Hype Man (Actors Theatre of Lousiville). Chicago credits include Wolf PlayHang Man (The Gift); Venus (Steppenwolf Next Up!); Do You Feel Anger?, Fulfillment Center (A Red Orchid, Ensemble Member); Landladies (Northlight); How We Got On (Haven), SS! Midsummer (CST), L-vis Live! (Victory Gardens), and Marry Me A Little (Porchlight Music Theatre). NY credits include work by Joyce Carol Oates and The Unauthorized Musicology of Ben Folds (NYMF Director of Programming, 2005-08).  Jess was the Goodman’s 2017 Michael Maggio Directing Fellow and a 2018 Artistic Fellow at Victory Gardens. She has created operas with Chicago community groups (Lyric Opera) and musicals with incarcerated teens through Storycatchers Theatre, and is currently developing Mill Girls (by Diana Lawrence & Samantha Beach) and the multi-disciplinary Redline Project. M.F.A., Northwestern.

BRIAN QUIJADA is an actor, playwright, musician, an award-winning solo performer, and Co-Artistic Director of The Wild Wind Performance Lab at Texas Tech University. Brian was born in the Greater Chicagoland Area to Salvadoran parents. After majoring in Theater and English at The University of Iowa, and spending a year post-graduation in Chicago, Brian moved to New York City, where he is now based. His acting work has been seen all across he United States and internationally. Brian’s writing work has been produced from coast to coast and focuses on immigration, the human condition, identity, and the Latinx-American experience. As an educator, Quijada has taught solo performance, social justice, verse writing, and devised theatrical looping master classes for Carnegie Mellon University, Point Park University, Carlow College, Slippery Rock University, University of New Mexico, KCATCF Region 7 (Pacific Northwest) and Region 3 (Northern Midwest), Western Washington University, Hunter College, Los Medanos College, Texas Tech University’s Wild Wind Performance Lab, and The Kennedy Center. Quijada is a two-time Jeff Award winner in Chicago and a two-time Drama Desk Nominee in NYC. He is a proud member of The Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City.