March 1, 2023

McCarter to Showcase Morrison-Inspired Events

COLLABORATIVE CREATIONS: A rehearsal of Daniel Alexander Jones’ piece “Black Light,” among the events inspired by the Toni Morrison Papers. (Photograph courtesy of the artist)

McCarter Theatre will premiere a set of commissioned performances on March 24 and 25 as part of campus-wide programming celebrating author Toni Morrison’s life and legacy.

The performances are the result of collaborations with McCarter’s Associate Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson and Autumn Womack, curator of Princeton University Library’s exhibition “Toni Morrison: Sites of Memory” and assistant professor of English and African American Studies. Multidisciplinary artists Daniel Alexander Jones and Mame Diarra Samantha Speis visited the University Library’s Toni Morrison Papers archive, a large trove of personal papers, letters, manuscripts and objects that were acquired by the University in 2014 to inspire original creations.

Taking place at the Berlind Theatre Rehearsal Studio, 91 University Place, the performances will be sneak peeks of their works-in-progress, in conjunction with a three-day symposium organized as part of the concurrent exhibitions “Toni Morrison: Sites of Memory,” the first public viewing of the around 100 original objects from the Toni Morrison Papers, and “Cycle of Creativity: Alison Saar and the Toni Morrison Papers, which pairs Morrison’s letters and lectures with Saar’s artworks, on view at the Princeton University Library and at the Princeton University Art Museum’s auxiliary exhibition venue, Art@Bainbridge.

In addition, the jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant will debut an original composition with Princeton University Concerts at Richardson Auditorium on April 12.

“These performances speak to the collaborative and interdisciplinarity ethos of Morrison’s practice,” said Womack. “They prove that the Toni Morrison Papers continue to inspire artists and makers, as Morrison’s work has always done.”

While McCarter has a long history of commissioning plays, this is the first time the theater is commissioning multi-hyphenate performance artists, which are the culmination of a residency that began in 2022, during which the selected artists were given access to the Toni Morrison Papers. Since then, the artists have worked with Womack and referenced the historical materials with an emphasis on Morrison’s unfinished manuscripts as a point of departure, responding to what they uncover via dance, performance and theater. Both works will be presented during the Sites of Memory symposium weekend.

“Through conversations with Autumn and the curatorial team, McCarter was invited to envision new ways of breathing fresh air into the archives,” said Nicole A. Watson, associate artistic director of McCarter, and curator of the commissions. “Like Morrison, the commissioned artists are expansive in their imaginative and creative genius, political prowess, and civic engagement. This is a rare opportunity to both give voice to Morrison’s magnificent legacy and to amplify the work of singular artists who are in the process of building artistic legacies themselves.”

Debbie Bisno, McCarter’s director of university and artistic partnerships, said, “Our participation in the University-wide programming centered around the Toni Morrison Papers builds on the success of recent projects that amplify scholarship and contribute to current campus conversations. McCarter and Princeton share a successful history of creative collaborations. Recent cross-campus initiatives include original plays for The Princeton and Slavery Project, an exploration of Princeton University’s history of slavery in 2017 and Manic Monologues: A Conversation on Mental Health, a series of virtual theater experiences that address mental health illness. This project illustrates McCarter’s unique role as a creative hub for arts and ideas and the innovative ways we intersect with Princeton to bring art in dialogue with campus life, and the larger community.”

Performances are at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 (free for Princeton University students with Passport to the Arts using code PUTIGER). Visit