The NIU School of Theatre and Dance presents Edward II a new adaptation of the play originally written in 1592 by Christopher Marlowe, opening Friday, October 15. Frankie DiCiaccio authored this adaptation and serves as both director and choreographer. In recent years, DiCiaccio has directed NIU productions of Love and Information and Walk Across America for Mother Earth.
Edward II traces an imperfect monarch’s rise and fall. The court becomes obsessed with the King’s relationship with a male companion, inflaming political tribalism and hampering any chance at progress. Set in the not-too-distant future, against a backdrop of climate catastrophe and geopolitical turmoil, this new adaptation explores how a deluge of ego, greed, and the violence of gender prescription may pull us all under. The waters are rising, but all eyes are on Edward’s bed.
Performances are held in the Sally Stevens Players Theatre in the Stevens Building on the NIU main campus Friday, October 15 and Saturday, October 16 at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, October 17 at 2 p.m., Thursday, October 21 and Friday, October 22 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, October 23 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7, and NIU students can attend free of charge by reserving a ticket in advance. Tickets can be obtained through the NIU School of Theatre and Dance Annette Johns Box Office.
Sam Bliss (Spenser, Matrevis) is a junior BFA in acting candidate. Her past NIU credits include Angels in America, A Bird in the Hand, and Rogues’ Gallery (Third Onion Series). Some of her favorite past credits include Hermione in The Winter’s Tale, Queen Elizabeth in Richard III, and Aaron Kriefls and others in The Laramie Project, all at Commonwealth Theatre Center in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. She is very excited to share this play with all of you!
Caroline Byrne (Kent) is a fourth year BFA Actor at Northern Illinois University. You may know her previously as 46 in Sarah Delappe’s The Wolves, and Marsha in Taylor Mac’s The Walk Across America for Mother Earth. She is delighted to be wrapping up her training with such a rich cast of brilliant artists and people. She hopes you enjoy the show!
Kate Drury (Pembroke, Leicester) is a junior BFA Acting Candidate and Dance Minor. Originally from Nashville, Tenn., this is her second show here at NIU. She was previously seen in Fall 2020’s Bird in the Hand. Catch her in the Fall Dance Concert: Best of Broadway later this semester!
Seamus Fleischman (Archbishop of Canterbury, Lightborn) a BFA Acting 3, is relieved to finally be back in person and a part of Edward II’s marvelous cast (although he is still getting used to not wearing sweatpants every day). He has been seen in two other NIU productions: last year’s Love and Information, and Town Hall. Both of which were performed with wildly different haircuts and in different U.S states. What a year.
Chlo Janisch (Lancaster/Fight Captain) is an actor combatant and fourth year BFA acting candidate from Twin Cities, Minn. Previous NIU credits of theirs include: Them Crabs, Troilus and Cressida, The Wolves, and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. Chlo is thrilled to be making their return to live theatre in this topical production and hopes to continue sharing radical stories of the human experience.
Lauren Krelle (Baldock, Gurney) is a second year BA theatre studies candidate. She is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to participate in her first production with the NIU School of Theatre and Dance. She has enjoyed the training she has received through high school and while attending NIU.
JoLan Lacy-Jones (Warwick) is a senior BFA acting candidate here at NIU and this is her fifth show. JoLan is very excited and grateful to be part of a show with an amazing, talented cast. She is also happy that this is in her final year at NIU and she still continues to follow her dreams and strong passion for acting. JoLan’s future plans after she graduates are to continue to act and hopefully perform on a big stage, also in hopes to see herself on the big screen someday performing alongside some of her favorite actors that inspired her to start acting. JoLan’s favorite past roles: The Castle (The Innkeeper’s Wife & Olga), Summertime (Mimi) and Bike America (Rorie).
Morgan Mallory (Margaret, Bishop of Coventry) is a third year BA Theatre Studies student and she is very excited to be a part of this production of Edward ll. Some other things she has been a part of are Northern Illinois University’s production of Everybody as well as Crete Monee High School’s productions of Mamma Mia and Noises Off. She hopes that you all will enjoy the show!
Savannah-Lee Mumford (Edward) is a third-year graduate student here at NIU. Off-Broadway: Stranger Sings!: The Parody Musical (Barb Holland (Original Cast)). Regional Credits: Into the Woods (Stepmother / Witch U/s) at Charlottesville Opera, Rock of Ages (Sherrie Christain) at ACT – Broadway World Nomination. NIU credits: Everybody (God), The Wolves (#7). Education: BFA Drama UNCSA. You can catch Savannah-Lee on the upcoming Original Cast Album of Stranger Sings!: The Parody Musical and on “This Podcast Won’t Run A Week,” a bi-weekly musical theatre podcast co-hosted by Savannah-Lee and childhood best friend, Kat. Listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and more. —savannahleemumford.com
Noah Reilly (Mortimer) is a SAG-E, Meisner-based actor. He recently lived and worked in Los Angeles as an actor on television series such as Animal Kingdom, Black-ish, and Saved by the Bell. Previous theatre credits include Patroclus in Troilus and Cressida, Wesley in Time of Your Life, and Mulberry in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. This show has been such a fun experience for Noah and he can’t wait to share all his work.
Shraga D. Wasserman (Isabella) is a year three MFA in Acting candidate. A native of Iowa City, Shraga graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a BA in Interdisciplinary Performing Arts with emphases in music, art, and theatre. They spent the following four years based in Minneapolis before relocating to pursue further training at NIU. Their favorite roles past include Moritz in Spring Awakening (Theatre Cedar Rapids), Marius in Les Misérables (TCR), Jamie in The Great God Pan (UNI), Peter in Peter and Alice (Candid Theater Co.), and Paul in Quilt: A Musical Celebration (MJP Theatrical / Candid NYC). Thank you for sharing in this experience.
Ryan Wyrobek (Prince Edward) is absolutely ecstatic to be playing Prince Edward in his first, in-person show here at the School of Theatre and Dance at NIU. He is a junior who is pursuing a B.A is Secondary English Education as well as a B.A in Theatre Studies. His previous roles have included being one of the many characters in the creative zoom performance project, Love and Information, directed by this show’s same director, Frankie DiCiaccio.
Lilly Rose Zepeda (Gaveston) is a fourth year BFA Acting candidate at NIU. She has been seen previously as Ivonne in La Ruta, Angel in Angels in America, Anna in A Bright New Boise, and Greeter in The Walk Across America for Mother Earth. She’s very excited to share this story and doing live theatre once again!
Frankie DiCiaccio (Director/Adapter/Choreographer) is an actor, theatre-maker, and arts educator who splits their time between New York City and Illinois. Previous NIU directing credits include The Walk Across America for Mother Earth by Taylor Mac and a virtual production of Love and Information by Caryl Churchill. This Spring, Frankie will direct Pink Milk by Ariel Zetina for The Theatre School at DePaul University. Frankie’s directing and choreography credits also include projects at Club Oberon (Boston); the Steppenwolf Garage Theatre and Rabid Bat Theatricals (Chicago); and The Dare Tactic and LaGuardia Performing Arts Center (New York). Frankie and frequent collaborator Molly Shanahan (Artistic Director of the Chicago-based dance company Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak) are currently working on a multimedia book project exploring embodied artistry, lived experience and trauma, and rhizomatic, non-hierarchical forms of knowledge production. Frankie is a core faculty member in the theatre division of the National High School Institute (“the Cherubs”) at Northwestern University and has taught at schools and universities across New York City and Illinois. Frankie received their BA in Theatre, Musical Theatre, and Spanish from Northwestern and MFA in Acting from the American Repertory Theater/Harvard University. More at www.FrankieDiCiaccio.com.
Evan Forbes (Stage Manager) is an alumnus of Northern Illinois University’s School of Theatre and Dance, returning to assist in producing Edward II after stage managing Town Hall last spring. After graduation in 2017, he worked with the Utah Shakespeare Festival in a variety of technical positions related to sound and lighting. Upon closing their season, Evan worked with the Arizona Theatre Company as their production management intern. Having recently worked as Technical Director at the Holmes Student Center, he is currently working as Technical Director at the historic Egyptian Theatre in downtown DeKalb.
Aidan Murphy (Lighting Designer) Originally from Colorado, Aidan Murphy is an MFA candidate in Lighting Design. Recent designs include The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane at the CS Fine Art Center. Adam Rager (Technical Director) is a first year Grad Student with a BS in Theatrical Arts from The University of Southern Indiana ‘08. Over his 13 year leap between undergrad and Graduate School he works for Regional Theatres across America. He has also worked for National tours of Damn Yankees, Elf The Musical, Paw Patrol Live and Smokey Joe’s Cafe. Adam is excited for his first Technical Director position with NIU SOTD.
Danielle Reinhardt (Costume Designer) is a second-year MFA in costume design candidate from Sycamore, IL. She previously designed Stage Coach Players’ performance of The Little Mermaid (Egyptian Theatre) as well as the independent film The White Horse is Dead. Danielle has also earned her MBA at Elmhurst University and is a Senior Brand Manager for Ultra PRO Entertainment. Her motto is to never stop learning and never stop dreaming.
Finn Stumpf (Assistant Director)
The 2021-2022 performance season the NIU School of Theatre and Dance opens Friday, October 1 with Kermit Frazier’s, Kernel of Sanity in the Sally Stevens Players Theatre, in the Stevens Building on the NIU main campus.
The production is directed by School of Theatre and Dance alum Alys Dickerson and features a cast of third-year MFA actors.
On his way out to Los Angeles, Roger, a young black actor, stops in a Midwest town to visit Frank, an older white actor that once starred in a production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest where Roger played a bit part. What transpires during this unlikely meeting is a mystery dealing with identity, sanity, and white privilege. Frazier’s play about marginalization was itself marginalized. The 1978 play languished without a professional production for years, only recently claiming its rightful place in the twentieth-century American canon. Its prescience against the backdrop of our ongoing racial reckoning is startling.
Friday, October 1, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, October 2, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, October 3, 2:00 p.m.
Thursday, October 7, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, October 8, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, October 9, 2:00 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased online. Kernel of Sanity is part of the Sally Series of productions, and tickets are $7 for those performances. NIU students can attend for free by reserving their ticket in advance.
Chris Anthony (Frank Tracy)
Chris is and 3rd year MFA Actor from Indiana, Penn., where he received his BA in Theatre from Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania. NIU Credits: Bright New Boise, Arturo Ui, Bike America. Regional Philadelphia credits: The Lantern Theatre Co, Ego Po Classics, DieCast, PhillyShakes, Commonwealth Classics, New City Stages, “Bye Bye Liver; The Philly Drinking Play”, High Draama Sketch Comedy. Chris was featured at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival with DieCast Theatre (The Hairy Ape, Pericles. Menagerie of Angles).
Paige Larkowski (Rita Templeton)
Paige is a third year MFA in acting candidate from Arlington Heights, Ill. She recently performed in Polaroid Stories (NIU) as Eurydice. Paige holds a BFA in acting from Western Michigan University and is a proud member of Teamsters Local 727. She is honored to be part of such a lovely cast and crew.
Jamaque Newberry (Roger Peterson)
Jamaque Newberry hails from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He received his BFA degree in Filmmaking from Western Kentucky University while competing for their world-renowned speech and debate team. While competing he accumulated multiple national awards in dramatic and poetic performance. Before coming to NIU he taught dramatic performance and film techniques for various middle school and high school programs. He is now furthering his love for performance and art at Northern Illinois University as a candidate for an MFA in Acting. At NIU he has had the pleasure of starring in plays such as Time of Your Life and Everybody.
Alys Dickerson (Director)
This is Alys Dickerson’s directing debut with SOTD, and she is very grateful to have been invited back to direct at her alma mater having graduated in the MFA class of 2016. Alys is currently working in education design at American Players Theatre and in their current production of Cymbeline at the Up Hill Theatre. Previous storytelling and directing credits; Sender by Ike Holter at the Women’s Theatre Alliance in Chicago and The Odd Couple by Neil Simon at University of Kentucky studio season. Grateful for the risk we take by consistently telling stories.
Jon McLawhorn (Assistant Director)
Jon is very excited to assistant direct his second SOTD production, after last spring’s
“Polaroid Stories” by Naomi Iizuka (NIU). Jon is a Theatre Studies major with an emphasis in directing/writing and co-founded, produced, and directed shows in the 24 Hour Festival here at NIU. He may also be recognized from his role as Dockworker/Policeman in Time of Your Life (NIU). He’s also a proud member of the light shop, #LightsOut! Jon is so thankful to all his family and friends who support him, and to Alys and the cast for bringing theatre to life again.
Haley Welch (Stage Manager)
Haley Welch is a Stage Manager from the Chicago Area. She graduated with her BFA from NIU in 2018 and is happy to be back working with the School of Theatre and Dance to make theatre again. Previous credits include stage managing for NIU’s Angels in America, By the Bog of Cats, and Blue Stockings.
Maddie Danhouser (Costume Designer)
Maddie Danhouser (Costume Designer) is a fourth year BFA design and technology candidate at Northern Illinois University. This is their first role in a show as a member of the design team, and they are so excited to see the show come to life on stage. Their previous work at NIU includes Troilus and Cressida, The Time of Your Life, and Hamlet, amongst other shows. They are glad to be able to work with such an amazing production team during their last semester at NIU.
Alys Dickerson / Director
Jon McLawhorn / Assistant Director
Haley Welch / Stage Manager
Maddie Danhouser / Costume Designer
Alexa Wiljanen / Lighting Designer
Kallen Eckert / Technical Director
Dave Doherty / Properties Coordinator
Rachel Seabaugh / Properties
Ethan Rosing / Production Manager
This production contains language and behaviors that do not reflect the current views of the actors, the production team, or the School of Theatre and Dance as a whole. This vernacular and behavior is a product of dramatization and a reflection of when this play was written. We felt that to censor or change it would be to ignore these biases and behaviors that existed in the world then and the world now.
The NIU School of Theatre and Dance follows the COVID-19 safety protocols of the university. The guidelines are updated as conditions change. At this time, face coverings are required in all indoor university spaces including our theatres. Updated information is available at: niu.edu/protecting-the-pack
A full season of live theater and dance productions returns to NIU this year, as the School of Theatre and Dance welcomes back audiences to the theaters in the Stevens Building on the main campus.
From classics like Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, new adaptions of Three Sisters, Edward II, RUR, The Conference of the Birds adapted from Attar’s epic poem, to newer offerings like Ike Holter’s Hit the Wall and Julia Cho’s The Language Archive there is something for everyone.
The season opens Friday, October 1 with a production of Kernel of Sanity written by Kermit Frazier and directed by School of Theatre and Dance alumna Alys Dickerson. Shows run for two weeks beginning with Friday and Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m. and a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee, then the next week Thursday and Friday at 7:30 with a final Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. The dance concerts feature four evening performances at 7:30 p.m.
The O’Connell Series are the shows held in either the O’Connell Theatre or the Black Box Theatre and the Sally Series are those in the Sally Stevens Players Theatre. Individual performance and season tickets are available at niu.edu/theatre. NIU students can attend free of charge by reserving their ticket in advance.
Kernel of Sanity
by Kermit Frazier
October 1-3 and 7-9
Sally Stevens Players Theatre (Sally Series)
On his way out to Los Angeles, Roger, a young black actor, stops in a Midwestern town to visit Frank, an older white actor who once starred in a production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in which Roger played a bit part. What transpires during this unlikely meeting is a mystery dealing with identity, sanity, and white privilege. Frazier’s play about marginalization was itself marginalized. The 1978 play languished without a professional production for years, only recently claiming its rightful place in the 20th-century American canon. Its prescience against the backdrop of our ongoing racial reckoning is startling. The production is directed by SOTD aluma Alys Dickerson and features a cast of third-year MFA actors.
by Christopher Marlowe, adapted by Frankie DiCiaccio
October 15-17 and 21-23
Sally Stevens Players Theatre (Sally Series)
“Edward II” traces an imperfect monarch’s rise and fall. The court becomes obsessed with the king’s relationship with a male companion, inﬂaming political tribalism and hampering any chance at progress. Set in the not-too-distant future, against a backdrop of climate catastrophe and geopolitical turmoil, this new adaptation by director Frankie DiCiaccio explores how a deluge of ego, greed and the violence of gender prescription may pull us all under. The waters are rising, but all eyes are on Edward’s bed.
by William Shakespeare
October 29-31 and November 4-6
Black Box Theatre (O’Connell Series)
Did you ever have the urge to run away to the circus? The upside-down world of Illyria is a little like a circus. Expect mistaken identity, disguised lovers, comic chases and ﬁghts!
by Anton Chekhov, adapted by Alexander Gelman
November 5-7 and 11-13
Sally Stevens Players Theatre (Sally Series)
This world premiere of a new adaptation, translated and directed by SOTD’s Alexander Gelman, breathes new life into Chekhov’s taut story of a family in the provinces hoping for a better life–always almost “going to Moscow.”
Fall Dance Concert
O’Connell Theatre (O’Connell Series)
The talented dancers of the NIU School of Theatre and Dance take center stage for their annual crowd-pleasing Fall Dance Concert.
Hit the Wall
by Ike Holter
February 4-6 and 10-12
Sally Stevens Players Theatre (Sally Series)
It’s 1969, summer in New York, and Judy Garland is dead. Police raid the Stonewall Inn on June 28, sparking several days of protests and birthing the modern gay rights movement. We all think we know this story. Chicago playwright Ike Holter explodes this myth, using ﬁctionalized characters to retell history and make it live again for a new generation of activists.
by Karel Čapek, adapted by Matt Yee
February 25-27 and March 3-5
Sally Stevens Players Theatre (Sally Series)
Before “RUR” there were automatons and androids, but this is the play that gave us the word “robot.” Čapek’s 1921 play tells the story of a dystopian world where a corporation creates synthetic humans that become a servant class and eventually revolt. SOTD Alumus Matt Yee adapts this early science ﬁction tale directed by Matt O’Brien of GreatWorks Theatre Company.
The Conference of the Birds
by Sholeh Wolpé, adapted from Attar’s epic poem
April 1-3 and 7-9
Black Box Theatre (O’Connell Series)
Based on a 12th century Suffi poem, “The Conference of the Birds” follows a group of birds on a spiritual quest for enlightenment. This lyrical adventure fantasy play unfolds through ﬁgurative language, movement and dance.
The Language Archive
by Julia Cho
April 22-24 and 28-30
Sally Stevens Players Theatre (Sally Series)
Researchers studying a dying language become involved in a love triangle in this absurdist farce that teases out the quirky differences between what’s expressed and what’s meant.
Spring Dance Concert
O’Connell Theatre (O’Connell Series)
Our season concludes with another dance concert performed by the talented dancers of our NIU School of Theatre and Dance.
Also, don’t miss our MFA/BFA Actor Showcase, April 13-16 in the Sally Stevens Theatre at no charge. The showcase is the culmination of the training and hard work for our actors here at NIU. The showcase will present both video reels and live-action scenes that have been hand-picked to highlight the best of each actor’s abilities.
The Northern Illinois University School of Theatre and Dance follows the COVID-19 protocols of the university. The guidelines are updated as conditions change. At this time, face coverings are required in all indoor university spaces, including our theaters. Updated information is available at niu.edu/protecting-the-pack.
Jill Belluomini, NIU’s 2021 Lincoln Laureate winner, chemistry major and dance minor, was featured in the commencement video for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Here’s Jill’s story:
Also featured were Art and Design’s Angie Redmond and Music’s Izabella Gieron.
When Daniil Krimer graduated with his M.F.A. in acting in 2019, he had no way of knowing the kinds of changes that were on the horizon.
When he founded the Kane Repertory Theatre in St. Charles, Illinois, in 2019 and became its artistic director, he had no idea that the world—and particularly the theater arts world—would grind to a halt in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic soon after. But through creative adaptation, Krimer and his partner, Managing Director Avery Bowne, M.F.A. ’19, have found new and impressive ways to deliver fine theater to audiences during this unprecedented time.
“My job as artistic director is one that is often sporadic and doesn’t have a set schedule,” Krimer said. “It usually involves Avery and I, starting the day with a phone call, talking through everything that has to be done for the day. Some days that includes being on the phone with agents, sometimes that’s reading a bunch of new plays, and sometimes that is putting together marketing and press release materials.”
But in a new virtual world, the work of an artistic director has had to be even more reactive and flexible than ever.
“There is such a long way to go, but I do think Avery and I did something which was deemed impossible by most performing arts organizations—we grew during COVID,” he said. “We were able to innovate ways to grow the size of our network, audience reach, and donors, all during this awful period of COVID-19. I think that is definitely an accomplishment.”
Attracting up-and-coming playwrights and Oscar-nominated stars has been one way Krimer and his company have maintained success during a challenging time.
Running from April 10-May 2, the Kane Repertory Theatre hosted the world premiere online production of Hammaad Chaudry’s “Security.” The cast included Academy Award and three-time Golden Globe nominee Eric Roberts, as Homeland Security agent Brian, playing opposite Harsh J. Gagoomal’s Riaz. When 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 changes his life forever. Thirteen years later, a grown up Riaz returns to the United States, hunts down Brian at his home, and now interrogates him, returning the favor.
The online production was 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 work of a top-notch video editor, the final production will look and feel as if both actors are sharing the same space.
Krimer credits NIU with helping him build his acting skills as well as his ability to ignite passion for the arts in others, even in the face of adversity.
“One of my favorite memories from my time at NIU is teaching the THEA 110 Acting Fundamentals for the non-major students,” he said. “I got to teach acting to a lot of non-majors, and it was always so exciting to inspire passion for the art form to someone who registered for the class just to get a general education credit out of the way.”
Krimer went to graduate school because he wanted to be in control of his craft as an actor.
“I wanted my craft to be tangible, offering strong performances with consistency,” he said. “NIU provided me with the classes and learning opportunities to develop that skill. It really was in some ways the perfect place for me to grow. I don’t know that there is another M.F.A. acting program in the country that would have resonated with me the way NIU did.”
Krimer is clear that he chose to attend NIU because of Patricia Skarbinski, the head of the University’s M.F.A. acting program.
“After I interviewed with her and took a workshop with her in New York City back in 2016, I knew NIU was the school for me,” he said. ”Patricia Skarbinski is more than a teacher. She is a guru. I learned so much from her I don’t know where to start. She and a handful of other professors taught me the craft of acting, and I left school being confident that you could give me any play, TV or film script or commercial copy, and I would be bring that text to life. What those professors did for me is no small feat.”
Krimer also said his graduate school allowed him to form deep bonds with his classmates, which proved to be a great beginning for the theater.
“Considering I spent all three years of graduate school with the same 15 people, a majority of the classmates I graduated with are my dear friends,” Krimer said. “Starting a theater company with my classmate, Avery, grew from this foundation. The reason we are compatible professionally is because our time in graduate school together has instilled a deep understanding of one another’s artistic, entrepreneurial and societal sensibilities.”
So, after such surprise success, what is Krimer’s advice to other actors who may be discouraged in their careers by this difficult moment in history?
“Do not put yourself in a box. Do not live your life thinking there is a ceiling for your future,” he said. “So many people create boundaries for themselves without letting themselves actually take risks. Challenge yourself to apply for that scholarship or fellowship that you think you might not be worthy of. Challenge yourself to reach out to one of your industry idols and try to set up a meeting. We only have one shot at this thing called life, and every opportunity you don’t take a chance on is an opportunity wasted.”
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 Dance program 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.”
This post originally appeared in the April 15, 2021 edition of NIU Today.