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Strolling through the Princeton University campus for the first time leaves many awestruck at the beauty of the buildings. While many of the structures contain a neo-Gothic style, over the years several modern buildings have been built alongside them. The latest is the Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts complex, which is being introduced to the public with the multi-day Festival of the Arts from October 5-8. Designed to match the size and shape of existing campus structures, the new complex is a welcome addition that will benefit all of the arts programs at the university.

The Festival of the Arts is not only intended to showcase the new complex, but to put a spotlight on the arts at Princeton University itself. Open to the public, the festival features more than 100 concerts, plays, readings, dance performances, art exhibitions, multidisciplinary presentations, film screenings, community workshops and site-specific events.

“It’s sort of compacting a year’s worth of the kind of programming we do at Princeton into four days,” explains Steve Runk, Director of Communications at Lewis Center for the Arts.

The Lewis Arts complex anchors a 22-acre development and is the largest undertaken in the university’s history. The complex was designed by Steven Holl architects and represents a major commitment to the arts that began about a decade ago when a committee looked at expansion plans. A $101-million-dollar gift made in 2006 by the late Peter B. Lewis (Class of ’55) helped make that vision a reality.

The Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University

“We spent the past 10 years building our arts programs, adding courses and faculty, and increasing the breadth and the diversity of courses,” said Runk. “More and more students have been enrolling, while, at the same time, we were beginning to plan for what these facilities would need to be and do. Then, more donors stepped forward and provided money for the bricks and mortar, in addition to Peter’s gift. And now we’ve moved into this space, having grown the programs, and we’re ready to fully take advantage of this great new facility. So let’s celebrate that!”

The Festival of the Arts opens on Thursday, October 5th and contains something for everyone. The entire schedule may be found online at https://lcaopening.princeton.edu/schedule.

“One of the events we’re very excited about—and it looks like everybody else is too, because it is pretty much sold out—is the world premiere of a new play we commissioned by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins,” added Runk. “He’s a two-time Obie Award-winning playwright (and Class of 2006 alum) known for “An Octoroon” and “Appropriate” and he’s a young star in the theatre world. We commissioned him to do an adaptation of “The Bacchae,” and he’s done an amazing adaptation.”

The new adaptation of Euripides’ classic of the Greek stage is entitled “Gurls” and is placed in a contemporary setting with a DJ, dance music, cell phones and live feed video. The play, directed by 2006 alum and Obie Award-winner Lileana Blain-Cruz, takes place in the new Wallace Theater inside the Lewis Arts complex.

Theatre is also represented in a very unique way in the Forum at the Lewis Arts complex with Theatre For One – a project designed by Tony Award-winning designer Christine Jones and developed when she taught a Princeton Atelier course.

“It’s this booth that is now parked in the lobby forum area,” explained Runk. “One audience member goes in and one actor goes in, and the actor performs a short play for the audience member. Students have written short plays, and Emily Mann from McCarter Theatre wrote one as well.”

There is a wide assortment of musical offerings—from jazz, orchestral, a cappella and other performances, including Norwegian Baroque ensemble Barokksolistene—but three events stand out. The first is “Orpheus Unsung,” an opera for electric guitar, composed by Grammy Award-winner and Music faculty member Steven Mackey. The music-dance-theater production was conceived and directed by Mark DeChiazza in collaboration with Jason Treuting of Sō Percussion. In this wordless opera, the Orpheus myth is shattered and remade within a space that fragments story and identity.

The second musical highlight is Art Walk with Sō Percussion – an event that combines art and music. Sō Percussion, Princeton University’s Edward T. Cone Performers-in-Residence, have commissioned six Princeton composers – Seth Cluett, Quinn Collins, Lainie Fefferman, Judd Greenstein, Anne Hege, and Kate Neal – to create new works responding to outdoor sculpture across the campus. Join Sō Percussion as they perform these original works alongside the sculptures by Ursula von Rydingsvard, Richard Serra, Sol Lewitt, Henry Moore, Tony Smith, and Doug and Mike Starn that inspired them. Tours begin at Richard Serra’s “The Hedgehog and the Fox” sculpture near Taplin Auditorium (Fine Hall).

Murphy Dance Studio at Lewis Center for the Arts

The third highlight combines music with dance. In A Love Supreme by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Salva Sanchis and performed by Rosas dance company, four performers dance to the eponymous music of John Coltrane. The work is renowned for its exploration of the tension between tonal and rhythmical complexity and simplicity. The piece takes place in the new Hearst Dance Theater at Lewis Arts complex.

Over in the Berlind Theatre in the McCarter Theatre Center is the Princeton Poetry Festival, a two-day biennial event presented through the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Performance Central series, organized by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Princeton professor Paul Muldoon. Featured poets include Zang Di, Eleanor Goodman, Amal Kassir, Hester Knibbe, Michael Longley, Nikola Madzirov, Robert Pinsky (with Laurence Hobgood), Jacquelyn Pope, Ana Ristović, Víctor Rodríguez-Núñez, Sjón and Karen Solie.

The new Hurley Gallery inside the Lewis Center Complex will showcase “24 Hour Psycho,” an art installation by Douglas Gordon thatr consists entirely of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic and disturbingly violent 1960 film slowed down to approximately two frames per second and exhibited as an object in space. As a result, a full viewing of the film lasts exactly 24 hours. This installation marks the 24th anniversary of the artwork, and will be screened continuously for 24 days in the Hurley Gallery from 10:00am to 8:30pm each day.

Wallace Theater at the Lewis Center for the Arts

These are only a handful of the events taking place during the Festival. Having the events spread out across campus rather than simply at the new Complex was done by design.

“We’re emphasizing that this is the arts at Princeton,” added Runk. “It’s certainly celebrating this big new step, but we’ve always had the arts, and will continue to have the arts.”

Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber explains the meaning of the arts to the University: “The creative and performing arts inspire innovative thinking and deeper understanding of the human condition — they are tremendously important to the university, and an integral part of the education we provide to our students. The opening of the new Lewis Arts Complex is an extraordinary milestone for Princeton that will usher in a brilliant new era of arts scholarship, training, exploration and performance. I am grateful to Peter B. Lewis, Peter’s family and the other donors who helped us realize this dream. I hope that the campus and local community will join us for the opening festival and for years to come at this splendid new home for artistic expression and imaginative activity.”

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About Author

Gary Wien
Gary Wien

Gary Wien is a music journalist from Belmar, NJ. A three-time winner of Asbury Music’s Music Journalist of The Year, his writing and photographs have been seen in publications like Upstage Magazine, Backstreets Magazine, Gannett Newspapers, and Princeton Magazine. He is the also the author of two books: "Beyond The Palace" (about the history of rock music in Asbury Park) and "Are You Listening?" (his picks for the Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists) and is the publisher of New Jersey Stage magazine.