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Grappling with art’s ability to heal us in Wirtz Center’s 2023-24 season

Highlights include an homage to Frida Kahlo, hit musical “The Prom” and “Working: A Musical” from the book by legendary Chicago author Studs Terkel

  • “Frida Libre,” a musical inspired by Frida Kahlo runs Oct. 20-Nov. 5
  • Topical musical comedy “The Prom” takes the stage Nov. 10-19
  • Alumni collaboration “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” Nov. 17-20 finishes fall season

EVANSTON, Ill., -- The Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts at Northwestern University announces a 2023-24 season of musicals, dramas and theatre for young audiences by celebrated theater makers. 

“Each play is distinct, but all of them grapple, in one way or another, with art’s ability — in the face of real damage and devastation — to heal us,” said Tanya Palmer, assistant dean and executive artistic director for Northwestern’s School of Communication. 

The fall season kicks off with Imagine U’s “Frida Libre,” Oct. 20-Nov. 5, directed by Northwestern alum Ismael Lara, Jr. (MFA in directing ’22). The play is an homage to friendship inspired by the childhood of legendary painter Frida Kahlo.

During the show’s run, approximately 800 third-graders will view the performance as part of a partnership between Northwestern and Evanston/Skokie School District 65 schools to bring live theatre to local youth. For nearly two decades, the Wirtz Center at Northwestern has presented Imagine U’s popular performance series created especially for families with young children.

“The Prom” tells an all-too-timely story of homophobia shutting down a high school prom and the over-the-top Broadway performers who decide to save the day. This joyful, hilarious hit musical, directed by MFA directing candidate Tor Campbell, will run Nov. 10-19. 

The final fall production slated is Will Arbery’s (MFA writing for the screen and stage ’15) “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in its Chicago debut, directed by alum Joan Sergey (’17).

Highlights of the winter/spring season include a reimagined take on Shakespeare's “The Tempest”; a feminist riff on Bram Stoker's “Dracula” by playwright Kate Hamill; and “How to Know the Wild Flowers: A Map,” co-created by Jessica Thebus and Julie Marie Myatt, based on a story of grief and healing following the 19th-century pandemic.

“All productions this season offer clues for ways we can resist despair and division,” Palmer said.

The Wirtz Center Flex pass is now available through Dec. 31 for $125, including six admissions to any 2023-24 Wirtz production or The Waa-Mu Show. Flex passes may be redeemed at purchase or thereafter for six tickets to one performance, two tickets to three performances, or any other combination during the 2023-24 season. Single tickets will go on sale Sept. 20.

The Wirtz Center box office is in the lobby of the Ethel M. Barber Theater at 30 Arts Circle Drive on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. Box office summer hours are Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. The box office is closed on Sunday and Monday. 

For more information, visit the Wirtz Center website or call the box office at 847-491-7282.

The Wirtz Centers have updated health and safety guidelines related to COVID-19.  Patrons are encouraged to check the website prior to visiting as guidelines can change.

Wirtz Center 2023-24 season:

Fall 2023

Imagine U: “Frida Libre” 
Oct. 20-Nov. 5 
Josephine Louis Theater 
20 Arts Circle Drive 
Inspired by the childhood of legendary Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, “Frida Libre” is an uplifting story that explores the meaning of friendship, bravery and transformation. A seemingly quiet and shy boy, Alex secretly holds big ideas inside his head. He wants to be a luchador (wrestler) and defeat bad guys in the ring. His life changes when he meets brave and colorful Frida, an unusual girl who dreams of being a doctor so she can help people. Forced to do a science project on butterflies and metamorphosis, the pair discovers how true friendship can help you overcome fear and transform your dreams into reality. 

“Frida Libre” is directed by MFA directing alum Ismael Lara, Jr. and features book and lyrics by Karen Zacarias and music by Deborah Wicks La Puma.

“The Prom”
Nov. 10-19 
Ethel M. Barber Theater 
30 Arts Circle Drive 
Four eccentric Broadway stars are in desperate need of a new stage. So, when they hear that trouble is brewing around a small-town prom, they know it's time to spotlight the issue…and themselves. The town's parents want to keep the high school dance on the straight and narrow — but when one student just wants to bring her girlfriend to prom, the entire town has a date with destiny. On a mission to transform lives, Broadway's brassiest join forces with a courageous girl and the town's citizens, and the result is a love that brings them all together. Winner of the Drama Desk Award for Best Musical, “The Prom” expertly captures all the humor and heart of a classic musical comedy with a message that resonates with audiences now more than ever. 

“The Prom” is directed and choreographed by MFA directing candidate Tor Campbell, and features music by Matthew Skylar, book and lyrics by Chad Beguiling and book by Bob Martin.

MFA Writing for the Stage and Screen Alumni Production: “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” 
Nov. 17-19 
Hal and Martha Wallis Theater 
1949 Campus Drive 
It is nearing midnight in Wyoming, where four young conservatives have gathered at a backyard afterparty. They have returned home to toast their mentor Gina, newly inducted as president of a tiny Catholic college. But as their reunion spirals into spiritual chaos and clashing generational politics, it becomes less a celebration than a vicious fight to be understood. In this haunting new play, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2020, playwright and Northwestern alum Will Arbery, (MFA in writing for the stage and screen ’15), offers a story of grace and disarming clarity, speaking to the heart of a country at war with itself. 

The production is directed by Northwestern alum Joan Sergey.

Winter 2024

“Working: A Musical: Localized Version”
Feb. 2-11, 2024
Josephine Louis Theater 
20 Arts Circle Drive 
“Working: A Musical: Localized Version” is a documentary multimedia music theater production, weaving interviews from both past and present, including people living within blocks of the Northwestern campus. The voices of a multitude of lived experiences come together to create a never-before-seen production that brings dignity to workers in our community and across the nation by honoring their stories. 

“Working: A Musical” is based on the book by legendary Chicago author, broadcaster and historian Studs Terkel, adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, with music by songwriters Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz and James Taylor.

The localized format was conceived by Daniel C. Levine for ACT of Connecticut and features additional interviews conducted with Evanston-area workers. The production is directed by Erin Ortman. 

“Dracula: a feminist revenge fantasy, really"
Feb. 23-March 3, 2024
Ethel M. Barber Theater 
30 Arts Circle Drive 
In this thrilling new adaptation that bounces between horror and humor, playwright Kate Hamill confronts the sexism in Bram Stoker’s original work. By upending the familiar tropes of damsels in distress and dashing villains, Hamill reimagines the vampire classic as a full-throated feminist battle cry driving a gleeful stake through the heart of toxic masculinity.   

“Dracula” is directed by MFA directing candidate Jasmine B. Gunter. 

Danceworks 2024
March 8-10, 2024
Josephine Louis Theater 
20 Arts Circle Drive  
Northwestern's annual dance showcase features new works by acclaimed and nationally recognized guest choreographers and faculty.  

Spring 2024

“How to Know the Wild Flowers: A Map” 
April 19-28, 2024 
Ethel M. Barber Theater 
30 Arts Circle Drive 
A theatrical ritual of communal healing, this multi-disciplinary piece was inspired by the first field guide for flowers in America called “How to Know the Wild Flowers” by Frances Theodora Parsons. The guide was published in 1893, three years after the Russian Flu pandemic of 1890 took the life of Parson’s husband.

It was her long walks in the woods cataloging wildflowers that allowed her to heal her grief. Drawing from her life story, the rich poetic language of her guidebook and contemporary stories and songs of nature is a buoyant, imaginative celebration of the beauty surrounding and sustaining us and a journey out of grief. 

The production is co-created by Julie Marie Myatt and Jessica Thebus with members of the Northwestern community.

The 93rd annual Waa-Mu Show
April 26-May 5, 2024
Cahn Auditorium 
600 Emerson 
Now in its 93rd year, the Waa-Mu Show, Northwestern's oldest theatrical tradition, provides undergraduates with an unparalleled education in new musical theatre development. More than 100 students participate yearly as producers, writers and performers in creating an original musical that inspires audiences, challenges the artists involved and engages the surrounding communities. 

A Lab Production: The Great Sea Serpent” 
May 3-5, 2024 
Clare, Lu, 'n Em Theater 
1949 Campus Drive 
A lab production written by Tracy C. Davis, directed by David Catlin and designed by Marcus Doshi, “The Great Sea Serpent” portrays the laying of the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable — a technological feat that revolutionized communications and ushered in global capitalism. The true story is linked with a tale by Hans Christian Andersen that tells of the cable’s arrival from the perspective of sea creatures. This “great serpent” is a marvel to humans, who see it as the birth of the Information Age, and a threat to sea life, for whom it portends the arrival of more and more man-made industrial detritus in the sea. 

“The Tempest” 
May 17-26, 2024 
Josephine Louis Theater 
20 Arts Circle Drive 
Trickery and magic, romance and revenge set the stage for one of Shakespeare’s late masterpieces, “The Tempest,” in which sprites, goddesses and fools hold court. Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan and now a powerful magician, raises a great storm to wreck the ship bearing his betrayers onto the shores of the mysterious island Prospero has made home. There, attended upon by Prospero’s daughter Miranda, a magical sprite, and a villainous prisoner, Prospero leads them through a mysterious dream on a course from vengeance to reconciliation.  

“The Tempest” is directed by MFA directing candidate Manna-Symone Middlebrooks.