For the past 28 years, Paula Frasz has been designing dances that mirror her students, their experiences and the world we all live in.
“All artists reflect wherever they are,” she said. “I don’t just see our students in the classroom. This is my community. This is their community and their surroundings.”
As the makeup of the students in the dance program has become more diverse, Frasz has challenged herself to create works that reflect her students and their world.
For all of her efforts over nearly three decades, Frasz has been named a 2021 Presidential Engagement and Partnerships Professor.
In 2018, students from the NIU Danceprogram earned an invitation to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. to perform, “ENUF” a dance choregraphed by Frasz. The dance had been judged to be the best performance at the Central Conference of the American College Dance Association (ACDA).
“In the summer of 2016 I was sitting in my car waiting for the endless train to pass by in downtown DeKalb,” Frasz said. “The news was all about another young black man shot by police, and the Colin Kapernick kneeling situation during the national anthem. One of the train cars that went by had a graffiti tag on it that said ENUF in capital letters.
“I sat there and thought to myself, ‘Yes, I agree. ENUF already.’ I decided at that moment, because we have a wonderful group of minority dancers, that my next piece of choreography would be a dance addressing the history of oppression, suppression and violence against minority groups. I am an old hippie and protest is in my blood. It was time to speak out and my forum is movement.
“The dance, “ENUF,” was born.”
For Frasz, ENUF’s recognition and selection for the Kennedy Center performance was especially meaningful.
“I made it my mission to attract and train minority students as professional dancers, and to include dances in our concerts that were specifically choreographed for Black, Hispanic and other minority casts. To see seven Black, three Hispanic and one white dancer perform it with such heart, helped me realize the meaningful message of that dance.”
One of those who performed “ENUF” at the Kennedy Center was Amber Echols, a 2018 graduate of the dance program.
“I didn’t meet Paula until I transferred to NIU in the fall of 2016, but I had already heard of her and how amazing she is,” Echols said. “When she sees something in a dancer she pushes them to become better than they can ever imagine. I have studied so many types of dance styles, but once I was under her wing, I started to learn so much about the history of different minority dances. She took the time to learn for herself so she could help us understand it.”
In 2019, Frasz wrote the dance, “Your Excellency” inspired by black Union soldier James Henry Gooding’s letter to President Abraham Lincoln. Gooding had been born a slave in 1838 but as a child his freedom was purchased, perhaps by his father, and he was sent to school in New York City. In 1863, he enlisted in the Union Army and wrote letters that were published in his local paper. But it was a letter he wrote to President Lincoln that is most famous. Gooding wrote to Lincoln about the disparity of pay in the army, with Black soldiers earning three dollars less per pay period than white soldiers did. “We have done a Soldiers Duty,” Gooding wrote, “Why can’t we have a Soldiers pay?”
Frasz wrote “Your Excellency” with a specific cast in mind.
“We had these three fantastic male dancers and a wonderful actor,” she said. “I wanted to give them something, I wanted to give them a voice. I wanted to present it in a way where these four talented Black men could express anger and frustration, not in a rage. The way the letter was written, because it was the 1860s, the language is very proper, very respectful to President Lincoln. I could use that to make the movement contrast and really dynamic to show the anger and frustration.”
“Your Excellency” was performed at the American College Dance Festival at Western Michigan University at the beginning of March 2020, one of the last live dance performances before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The dance was first performed in November 2019 in conjunction with the NIU Art Museum exhibition, Exploring Aspects of War In and Through the Visual Arts.
Our BIPOC dancers are extremely talented and my work is enhanced by their skill,” Frasz said. “As our dance program attracts more highly skilled BIPOC dancers, my research also has become more focused. What better opportunity to give voice to an underserved population than to place their issues and concerns on stage? My personal growth has been profound, as the students generously share their cultural experiences and viewpoints, which helps me develop choreographic material to best suit them.”
The Presidential Commission on Race and Ethnicity (PCORE), formerly the Presidential Commission on the Status of Minorities (PSCM), has reimagined the annual Diversity and Inclusion luncheon as a virtual summit. The event will take place on Wednesday, April 14 beginning at noon.
The summit offers three programs including an afternoon awards ceremony, and afternoon program for students, and an evening town hall titled Policing on Campus in America. The town hall will feature Professor Rashawn Ray from the University of Maryland, Deputy Chief Darren Mitchell, and City of DeKalb Chief David Byrd. Dr. Simón E. Weffer-Elizondo, associate professor from the Department of Sociology will facilitate the discussion.
The afternoon awards ceremony will honor six McKinley “Deacon” Davis Award recipients and acknowledge their contributions towards building and sustaining an inclusive campus. The recipients are Jasmine Ivy, an NIU graduate student; Jessica Labatte, associate professor in the School of Art and Design; Paula Frasz, professor in the School of Dance; Michelle Bringas, director of the Asian American Resource Center; Jocelyn Santana, director of Social Justice Education; and President Lisa Freeman. Students, staff, faculty, and members of the community are welcome to attend the event and can register at http://go.niu.edu/1nlfbm.
Jessica Labatte, an associate professor in the School of Art and Design, and two student photographers created an extraordinarily moving project, Faces of Belonging, which can be viewed on Huskie Line buses within the DeKalb community and online at www.belongingdekalb.com.
Additionally, her nominator added, “Her work in the classroom focuses on access and empathy. She makes sure all her students have the best equipment possible, regardless of economic status. Jessica encourages, in fact requires, an inclusive approach to the art of photography, in which students are challenged to question not only what is photographed, but by whom and how. She was interrogating the dominant practices well before the current attention on such things.”
Professor Paula Frasz from the School of Dance is a legendary dance performance educator in the City of Chicago and at NIU.
Her nominator states, “her philosophy is to unite her community by bringing the art of dance performance to a myriad of audience members, illustrating that dance can universally convey ideas with compelling, creative and lasting images. In her research, she has voiced issues of BIPOC populations and those who have been silenced for so long. She has implemented her philosophy as founder and artistic director of DanszLoop Chicago, a not-for-profit dance company. For 14 years, DanszLoop showcased her choreography locally and nationally. DanszLoop audiences represent all strata of society, from a gymnasium full of African-American third-graders, to 250 artistic elites at the Manhattan Center for Movement and Music in New York City.”
Jasmine Ivy is engaged student leader who recently moderated a virtual Diversity Dialogue Series program on race-related trauma and was selected as the 2021 Phyllis Cunningham Social Justice Award winner for her efforts to pursue and support social justice initiatives.
Her nominator wrote: “Jasmine Ivy has been an exceptional student leader for her entire tenure at NIU, both as an undergraduate and graduate student. As an undergraduate student she was very engaged in service and promoted programs that uplift and empower students. She is a very talented, well-rounded young lady with a strong work ethic and is forthright in her pursuit of solutions. Jasmine is a leader that is committed to public service.”
Michelle Bringas has served as the director of the Asian American Resource Center for the past 19 years. She has built sustainable programs that uplift, support and empower students of Asian descent while engaging and educating our campus about Asian American heritage and culture.
Her nominator states, “Michelle has been an exceptional alumna and leader on our campus for years. She has been engaged in advocacy for many groups which is demonstrated by her standing with Black students and advocating for the original erection of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. bust in the MLK Commons; walking in protest alongside students; and without recognition speaking up for those who have been silenced, especially in difficult moments. Michelle plays a major role in developing and sustaining an inclusive campus.”
Jocelyn Santana serves as director of NIU’s Social Justice Education program. Her work extends across and beyond our campus and has helped develop programs, education and discussions that are transforming the climate at NIU.
Her nominator says, “Jocelyn is considered the staff expert on our campus because of her knowledge, willingness to engage in education and healing, and her enthusiasm and personality. Jocelyn works literally day, night and weekends to help provide the support, expertise, engagement and education for our campus and community to ensure we can enhance participants’ cultural competence, understanding and ultimately create environments that encourage conversations and cultural change.”
President Lisa Freeman
President Lisa Freeman
As our thirteenth President and first woman in the role, President Lisa Freeman truly leads our campus and community by example. She continues to lead our university with her consistent engagement, vision and efforts to create a community of inclusivity where all are welcomed and valued.
Her nominator shares, “Dr. Freeman is dedicated to ensuring our students, staff and faculty have the support they need to succeed on all levels. I have observed Dr. Freeman attend difficult meetings and conversations and address students with an empathetic and listening ear and then energize senior leadership to make immediate and lasting changes to meet the needs of students. Her personal engagement with students, her vision even through a pandemic and her relentless efforts to develop a campus that is a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, technology and beyond is commendable.”
For more information, contact PCORE Chair Felicia R. Bohanon at: (815) 753-1868 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To attend for the Annual Summit, registration is required at http://go.niu.edu/1nlfbm.
Those looking to make a difference at NIU have a new tool to help raise much-needed financial support. NIU Impact, the NIU Foundation’s new crowdfunding program at http://crowdfund.niu.edu and features ten campaigns.
One of those campaigns is “Curtain Call! – Support Graduating Senior Arts Projects” to assist with the funding of capstone projects and industry standard portfolio and audition materials for students in the College of Visual Performing Arts as they prepare to start their exciting careers in the arts.
Here’s an example of just one of the senior arts projects funding could benefit.
The crowdfunding campaign for supporting arts students will run through May 10, with a goal of raising $2,000 for students in each of three schools that makes up the College of Visual and Performing Arts (College of Art and Design, College of Music, College of Theatre and Dance.)
The NIU Foundation has experienced significant growth in its digital giving program, seeing an increase of over 100% from fiscal year 2018 to fiscal year 2020 in dollars raised. “In 2018, we raised nearly $290,000 through digital giving ,” shares Michael Adzovic, Director of the Northern Fund. “Last year, in 2020, we raised $580,000. Already, in fiscal year 2021, we’ve raised $683,000.”
Much of this growth can be attributed to the NIU Foundation’s Day of Giving program implemented in 2019, but other factors have fueled growth as well.
“The pandemic has been a factor,” shares Adzovic. “We’ve relied more on digital giving opportunities during this season and have found that many people are comfortable and prefer giving online. This is the future of our direct response program.”
That growth has inspired the NIU Foundation’s new crowdfunding program.
How Crowdfunding Works
Crowdfunding is not new, of course. This method of raising funds has been common for years, popularized through sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe. However, it has just recently become popular in higher education fundraising.
“We see great potential in crowdfunding at NIU,” shares Adzovic. “The platform allows us to work with campus partners to conduct targeted, goal-oriented and time-sensitive campaigns that harness the power of volunteers and their individual networks.”
A key difference between crowdfunding and the NIU Foundation’s traditional methods of fundraising is that crowdfunding is driven primarily by volunteers reaching out and amplifying a cause to their individual networks, as opposed to communications being institutionally driven. The dollar goal for crowdfunding campaigns tends to be smaller—commonly between $3,000-$5,000. These funds usually support very specific initiatives, such as student travel to conferences, research projects, and scholarships. The duration of a typical campaign is four weeks.
“We see crowdfunding being a great fit for many of our campus partners to fund needs for which we wouldn’t normally fundraise through traditional methods,” shares Adzovic. “We also view it as an excellent way to attract new donors to NIU.”
The NIU School of Theatre and Dance Black Artists Speaker Series welcomes alumna, J. Nicole Brooks for a guest artist lecture, Friday, April 9 at 3 p.m. via Zoom. Brooks is an award-winning actor, writer and director.
Her selected acting credits include Lottery Day (Lookingglass Theatre Company), Immediate Family (Center Theatre Group), and House Home (Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center, China). Her directing credits include Mr. Rickey Calls A Meeting, Thaddeus & Slocum: A Vaudeville Adventure and Black Diamond: the Years the Locusts Have Eaten.
Brooks is author of HeLa, Fedra: Queen of Haiti, Black Diamond, and 3 Weeks With Her Honor Jane Byrne. Television credits include recurring roles on Showtime’s The Chi and Comedy Central’s South Side. She is a multi-award winning artist honored by 3Arts, TCG Fox Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Black Ensemble Theatre Playwright of the Year, LA Ovation and Black Theatre Alliance. She is an ensemble member of Lookingglass Theatre Company.
Kane Repertory Theatre was founded by a group of recent graduates from the NIU School of Theatre and Dance and premiered their first show in 2019.
Kane Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Daniil Krimer and Managing Director Avery Bowne announce the world premiere online production of Hammaad Chaudry’s Security, as part of the company’s new Multiplatform Commission. Security, directed by Executive Producer Ansley Valentine, premieres online April 10-May 2, with plans for an in-person production when it is safe to do so.
The cast includes Academy Award and three-time Golden Globe nominee Eric Roberts (Brian) and Harsh J. Gagoomal (Riaz). The stage manager is Rayne Kleinofen with assistant stage manager Justin Williams.
Security: A 17 year old Riaz arrives from Britain to the United States for the first time and is stopped at the airport by a Homeland Security officer named Brian. The experience will change Riaz’s life forever. Thirteen years later, a grown up Riaz returns to the United States, hunts down Brian at his home, and now interrogates him—it’s time to return the favor.
The online production will be a blend of film and theatre. Green screens and professional film set-ups will be sent to the cast in their individual locations, and with the with the work of a top-notch video editor, the final production will look and feel as if both actors are sharing the same space.
A 17 year-old Riaz arrives from Britain to the United States for the first time, and is stopped at the airport by a Homeland Security officer named Brian. The experience will change Riaz’s life forever. Thirteen years later, a grown up Riaz returns to the United States, hunts down Brian at his home, and now interrogates him — it’s time to return the favor.
About the production
This world-premiere virtual production blends theatre and film into one compelling experience for the audience.
The actors are equipped with professional film equipment to record their performances in real-time. And through the work of the video editor, the final production will look as if both actors are sharing the same space. Living in the same world.
Tickets for the online production are $25 per household or $10 per adult, $8 per senior and $5 per student. Tickets are currently available online.
Artistic Director Daniil Krimer comments, “You don’t get to work with Oscar nominees often. Eric Roberts is one of those rare, class act actors that has immense talent and zero ego. It is a masterclass to watch him work and it’s an honor to have him as part of this project. Combine Eric Roberts with the dynamic Chicago actor Harsh J. Gagoomal and you forget that you’re watching a play on an Ipad and not in the actual room. With Zoom fatigue being a real thing, we want to make sure this isn’t just another production with two Zoom screens. We are combining the mediums here, intertwining film and theatre, and the performances are something special.”
“Hammaad Chaudry provides a wonderful new Muslim voice to the American theatre. In this time when we are being challenged by so many prejudices coming to light, this play provides an interesting and nuanced discussion of issues race, religion, and patriotism we all must confront,” adds Director/Producer Ansley Valentine. “Eric Roberts and Harsh Gagoomal are both powerful actors. Their combination of stage and screen experiences lift the words off the page in a thrilling way. And bringing Mr. Roberts back to the theatre, albeit virtually, is an exciting prospect. The play is scary, and funny, and touching. We hope to create a piece that provides a blend of stage and film for something we do not see often; it won’t be your typical Zoom reading. I can’t wait to share it with an audience!”
About the Artists
Hammaad Chaudry (playwright) is a U.S. and U.K. based playwright. His plays include An Ordinary Muslim, which received its World Premiere at the New York Theatre Workshop where he was the Tow Foundation Playwright in Residence. The play was the recipient of The Edgerton Foundation New Play Award and The Laurens/Hatcher Theater Grant. Other plays include God Willing, Tokens, Kismat, Salaam Mr. Bush and Bobby and Rabia. His work has been staged/developed at The Public Theater, The Pershing Square Signature Center, The Flea Theatre, The Kiln Theatre, The Royal Court Theatre in London and The Royal Lyceum Theatre in Scotland.
He was a Van Lier Fellow at New Dramatists, is an alumni of The Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group and remains a Usual Suspect at the New York Theatre Workshop. He is also a graduate of The Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers Programme, where the theatre selected his work for the Young Writers Festival and Unheard Voices competition. He is a recipient of the New Playwrights Award from Playwrights’ Studio Scotland. Residencies and workshops include: Cove Park Residency, Vineyard Arts Project Public Theater, Composer Librettist Studio (Nautilus Musical Theater). He holds an M.F.A. in Playwriting from Columbia University where he completed his studies on scholarship and a B.A. in International Politics and History from The University of Surrey in England.
Ansley Valentine (director, Executive Producer) is a professional director and choreographer for the theater and musical theater and an educator with experience teaching professionally at the collegiate level and in both public and private performing arts high schools. Ansley holds an M.F.A. in Directing from Indiana University. He is currently a proud member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC) and Actors’ Equity Association (AEA). Ansley is also a graduate of the Arts Midwest Minorities in Arts Administration Fellowship, a program funded by the Ford Foundation to increase minority representation in leadership roles at American not-for-profit organizations. His many awards include a 2014 Telly Award and a Kennedy Center Gold Medallion. He is past National Play Program Chair for Region III of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. In that capacity, he helped to foster the writing and development process of a number of young playwrights including producing readings of new work. In the summer, he is Artistic Director of the Ohio Youth Ensemble Stage, a company that provides an inclusive performing arts experience for students regardless of ability or financial resources.
Ansley’s performance credits include (Mr. De Pinna) at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, and several seasons with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s A Yuletide Celebration as puppet master and Scrooge (a 9-foot tall puppet). He also performed his character mask work with the Alabama and Detroit Symphonies. He has shared the stage with legendary performers Kaye Ballard and Judy Kaye. Other credits include performances with the Indianapolis Shakespeare Festival, Phoenix Theatre, Red Barn Playhouse, Brown County Playhouse, Horsefeathers and Applesauce Dinner Theatre, a national tour with the Mr. Wizard production of Supermarket Science.
Eric Roberts (Brian) is an Academy Award nominee for his role in Runaway Train and a three-time Golden Globe nominee for Runaway Train, Star 80, and King of the Gypsies. He received critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival for his roles in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and It’s My Party. He starred in La Cucaracha, which won Best Film at the Austin Film Festival, and for which Roberts won Best Actor at the New York Independent Film Festival that same year. Other notable performances include his roles in Final Analysis, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Raggedy Man, Hollywood Dreams, Babyfever, Heaven’s Prisoners, The Dark Knight, and The Expendables, Lovelace and an upcoming feature he is not at liberty to discuss, but is most excited about.
On television, Roberts has received international attention for roles in “Heroes”, “Entourage,” “The L Word,” “The Cleaner,” the CSIs, “Justified,” “Less Than Perfect.” He made a profound impact in the Emmy-nominated adaptation of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” directed by Jonathan Kaplan. He joined the cast of the Starz series “Crash” for its second season, playing the kind of complex character Roberts is known for.
Roberts has also diversified into music videos, appearing in Sophie Muller’s “Mr. Brightside” video for The Killers, plus its prequel, “Miss Atomic Bomb” and Brett Ratner’s video for Mariah Carey’s “Emancipation of Mimi”—both award winners. One of his most popular appearances was as the surprised recipient of a heart-felt, spontaneous shout out from The Wrestler’s Mickey Rourke at the Independent Spirit Awards. On stage, Eric won the Theatre World Award for his role on Broadway in Burn This. He returned to the New York stage in “The Exonerated” and appeared in the show’s touring company as well.
Roberts was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, and grew up in and around the Atlanta area. He began his career in theatre, and as an actor in his late teens in New York City on the soap opera “Another World.”
If you ask Roberts today, he will tell you he has more than retained his passion for acting, but that there have been some additions to his repertoire of which he is most proud, namely his daughter Emma Roberts, and his step kids, Morgan and Keaton Simons. He supports them in all their artistic, musical and culinary endeavors. Eric’s other personal passions can be explored at his website.
Harsh J. Gagoomal (Riaz) is a joyful artist and aspiring policymaker who currently resides in Chicago. Previous acting experiences include performing in Guards at the Taj (Underground Railway Theater), The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (Red Theater Chicago), and Black & Privileged (Netflix, 1555 Filmworks). Harsh previously served as the director of The Homeless Monologues at the Goodman Theatre. Learn more about him at www.hiimharsh.com.
About the Kane Repertory Multiplatform Commission
The Multiplatform Commission was created to explore how virtual theatre can serve the transition of a brand-new play to the live stage. The Kane Repertory Theatre Multiplatform Commission selects one outstanding playwright to have a World Premiere of new play in two mediums—digitally this spring and, later, in-person when it is safe to do so. Hammaad Chaudry’s play was selected to be developed over a months-long process, both in this digital moment is explored in its entirety, using that process to inform its eventual premiere on the physical stage.
Daniil Krimer explains, “At Kane Rep’s 2020 New Play Lab, we gave 14 playwrights the opportunity to workshop their new works for about 10 hours each. In retrospect, it’s clear that that is not enough time to help playwrights make significant changes to their works of art. This realization inspired us to create the Multiplatform Commission. We decided that, in order to give a playwright the ability to develop a piece, we should commission them and work in tandem to give a piece life. After reading An Ordinary Muslim, we knew that Hammaad Chaudry was our guy. We are now on draft two of Security, and Hammaad’s ability to make everyday dramatic situations symbolize something much bigger, is a testament to why he is one of the premiere up-and-coming playwrights of this decade.”
About The New Play Lab
The New Play Lab is an ongoing project that is committed to helping playwrights continue the development of their new scripts. 2020 was a year full of challenges and opportunities, and Kane Rep worked with 14 professional playwrights on their new works. Over the course of five-months,15 plays, brought to life by more than 75 actors and directors, were produced. Funded by our generous audience and community, each and every participating theatre artist was compensated.
The New Play Lab provides a virtual rehearsal room to each selected playwright, connecting them with professional actors from our ensemble and beyond. On Wednesday evenings, audiences are invited to join us for a virtual reading of the scripts on YouTube Live. The audience gets a firsthand look at the development of these works and becomes an integral part in the creative process by joining us for post-read discussions, where sharing questions, thoughts, and impressions with the team is welcome.
As the company looks forward to 2021, it envisions a year of hope—one that will bring artists and audiences back to the theatre and in physical community with one another. The Kane Repertory Theatre Multiplatform Commission reflects that hope.
The 2020 New Play Lab has featured actors and directors Mark Brokaw (Drama Desk Award, Obie Award and Lucille Lortel Award winner), Rondi Reed (Tony Award winner), Austin Pendleton (Tony nominee/Drama Desk recipient), James Vincent Meredith (Steppenwolf ensemble member), Francis Guinan (Steppenwolf ensemble member), BJ Jones (Artistic Director, Northlight Theatre), Eddie Torres (Co-founder Teatro Vista), Isabel Arraiza (Driven, Pearson), Karen Rodriguez (Steppenwolf ensemble member), Hallie Gordon (former Artistic Director, Steppenwolf for Young Adults), Kyle Beltran (The Cherry Orchard, In The Heights) Justin Lucero (Aristic Director, El Paso Opera), Jon Blake Hackler (Dallas Theatre Center ensemble member), Ken Barnett (Mozart in the Jungle, Too Much Sun) Anthony Irons (Lookingglass ensemble member), Kevin Asselin (Artistic Director, Montana Shakespeare), Michael Stebbins (Artistic Director, Door Shakespeare), Marcy Kearns (Associate Artistic Director, Chamber Theatre), Michael Patrick Thornton (Artistic Director, The Gift Theatre), and Barbara Zahora (Artistic Director, Oak Park Festival).
About Kane Repertory
Kane Repertory Theatre is a home for professional, intellectually stimulating theatre. By using visceral performance to explore values in America, we seek to spark conversation, evoke empathy, and strengthen the community. We work to be one of the Midwest’s leading regional theaters by forming an ensemble of dynamic artists, providing patrons of all ages with first class theatre education, and engaging new audiences through various outreach efforts.