Project Humanities director touted as 'Invisible Hero'

February 4, 2015

If academia were Hollywood, it would be sweeps season for Neal A. Lester.

Lester, who is the founding director of ASU’s Project Humanities and Foundation Professor of English, was presented with the 2015 Invisible Heroes’ "UMOJA" Award at a Feb. 3 ceremony at Mount of Olives Lutheran Church in Phoenix. It is Lester’s sixth award in less than a year. Neal A. Lester Download Full Image

“Neal Lester educates the community about our biases, prejudices and stereotypes,” said Jason Green, founder of the United Gay Informed Men of African-descent (UGIMA). “He has always been an ally of the LGBT community and an agent of change regarding the privileges associated with heteronormativity and cisgender bias.”

Green said each year at Invisible Heroes, his organization gives out three awards based on the principles of Kwanzaa. “Umjoa” is the principle of unity, stressing the importance of togetherness for the family and for the community.

The award was established in 2010 by UGIMA to recognize the hidden or invisible history of current and past figures in the black and LGBT community. Past honorees include singer Sylvester, actor Paul Winfield, writer Langston Hughes, entertainer Josephine Baker and comedian Jackie “Moms” Mabley.

Lester said the award holds special significance for him.

"That the work of Project Humanities is making such an impact nationally, regionally and locally is gratifying,” Lester said. “Reaching wide and diverse audiences has indeed become hallmark of our programming."

Lester and Project Humanities have received major accolades since the project was founded just over three years ago, demonstrating the rapidly growing success and impact of this university initiative.

In 2014, Lester received the Roy Wilkins Community Service Award from the East Valley National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the inaugural Key of Excellence Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society; the Juliana Yoder Friend of the Humanities Award from Arizona Humanities; and a written commendation from His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the Humanity 101 effort.

Last month, Lester was presented with the 2015 Francis March Award by the Association of Departments of English in Vancouver, Canada.

Reporter , ASU Now


Taking risks in “This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing”

February 4, 2015

Growing up is tough, even in the world of fairytale and fantasy.

In the latest ASU MainStage production, Finegan Kruckemeyer’s “This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing,” three sisters must find their own individual paths through a fantastical world as they discover more about what truly matters to each of them in life. "This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing" Photo courtesy of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Download Full Image

“The beauty of this fairytale is that the young women in this play are actually creating their own world,” says the play’s director, Erika Hughes, who is an assistant professor of theatre in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. “So they make their own magic in a way that is very relatable and also teaches us that we all make our own magic.”

When we meet sisters Albienne, Beatrix and Carmen, at the play’s inception, they are only 12 years old. The story spans 20 years of adventure and change as each girl grows into her own woman.

“So much of popular entertainment offers only ‘the princess’ as a model to which girls may aspire,” says Lance Gharavi, associate director of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre and artistic director for the MainStage season. “’This Girl’ has no princesses, just three orphaned heroines. Each of them struggles to find her own way of making it through a dangerous world, each makes something very different of herself. While Kruckemeyer’s script is irresistibly fun and playful, it also offers a grittier, more complicated and ultimately more empowering vision for girls than the one the multi-plex has made familiar.”

Behind the Scenes: This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing from ASU Sch of Film, Dance & Theatre on Vimeo.

Emily Nash, an undergraduate in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, plays Carmen, the girl who does nothing. She thinks the play is particularly relatable for college-aged students like herself. “A lot of ASU students are in a similar position to these girls,” says Nash. “They’re on their own for the first time and they’re trying to figure out who they are. While they’re here, they’re going to have to try to figure out what’s important to them.”

Appropriately, playing this role has allowed Nash to practice doing just that. “During the process of this show, a very comfortable zone has been created for me to experiment, to try new things,” she says. “I feel like it’s helped me take more risks as an actress.”

“This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing” is a Theatre for Youth production, which means it is suitable for young audiences, but the themes in this story will appeal to theatregoers of all ages.

“I think it’s a play that will really make people think about their own life journeys, the risks that they’ve taken, and how to support people as they grow,” says Hughes.

Catch one of seven performances of “This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing” at the Lyceum Theatre, 901 S. Forest Mall, on ASU’s Tempe Campus:
Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 15 at 2 p.m.
Feb.19 at 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 20 at 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 22 at 2 p.m.

Tickets prices are:
$16–General; $12–ASU Faculty, Staff + Alumni; $12–Senior; $8–Student
Purchase tickets online or call 480.965.6447.

Media Contact:
Katrina Montgomery
Editor Assistant