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Northwestern will honor legacy of music theatre alum Kelsey Pharr, Jr.

Speaker series with artists of color celebrates wider array of artistic perspectives

Kelsey Pharr, Jr. in the Waa Mu Show 'Don't Look Now'
Kelsey Pharr, Jr. in the Waa Mu Show 'Don't Look Now'

Northwestern University’s School of Communication has announced the creation of the Kelsey Pharr, Jr. Speaker Series for the 2020-2021 academic year. The series will feature three artists of color working in the Chicago music theatre scene.

The series kicks off at 5 p.m., Oct. 16 with a free public conversation with director, actor and educator Lili-Anne Brown (C ’95). RSVP online for a link to the virtual event.

The series continues with director Jess McLeod (GC ’14) and actor, playwright and composer Brian Quijada speaking in the winter and spring, respectively.

The speaker series is named in honor of one of Northwestern’s earliest Black alums to find success in musical theatre. Kelsey Pharr, Jr. (1917-1961) starred in the 1937 and 1939 Waa-Mu shows before performing on Broadway and touring the world with the Delta Rhythm Boys vocal group.  

“We are proud to honor the memory and achievements of this extraordinary Black artist who graced Northwestern's stages nearly 100 years ago,” said Roger Ellis, assistant professor of theatre and one of the series curators. “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.”

“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 Masi Asare, assistant professor of theatre and performance studies and series co-curator.

Artist Bios:

Lili Anne Brown headshot WEBLili-Anne Brown is a director, actor and educator from Chicago. She has directed and produced award-winning local and regional shows. She is the former artistic director of Bailiwick Chicago, where she focused programming on Chicago-premiere musicals and new play development with resident playwrights. Recent credits include “School Girls, or The African Mean Girls Play,” and Ike Holter’s “Lottery Day” at Goodman Theatre and “The Color Purple” at Drury Lane Theatre. 

Jess McLeod Headshot WEBJess McLeod specializes in new work regarding American otherness and recently served as resident director for the three-year run of “Hamilton” inChicago. Other Chicago credits include “Wolf Play,” “Hang Man,” “Do You Feel Anger?”and “Marry Me a Little.” She has also worked regionally and in New York. She has created operas with Chicago community groups and musicals with incarcerated teens through Storycatchers Theatre, and is currently developing “Mill Girls,” as well as the multidisciplinary “Redline Project.” 

Brian Quijada headshot WEBBrian Quijada is an actor, playwright, composer and artistic director of The Wild Wind Performance Lab for New Play Development at Texas Tech University. He has spent most of his career acting in off-Broadway and regional theaters such as The Public Theater, Playwright’s Realm, Ensemble Studio Theatre and Victory Gardens. His play “Kid Prince and Pablo” recently received its world premiere at The Kennedy Center last fall, and his critically acclaimed show “Where Did We Sit in the Bus?” has toured all over the country. As an educator, Quijada has taught solo performance, social justice, verse writing, digital music, and devised theatrical looping master classes at universities across the country.

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