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Monday, June 29, 2020

Three Students Make History at Northwestern University as the First All-Black MFA Directing Cohort

Jasmine B. Gunter, Manna-Symone Middlebrooks, and Tor Campbell have become Northwestern’s first all-Black MFA directing cohort, possibly making them the first all-black MFA directing cohort at a United States university.

First All Black MFA Directing Cohort at Northwestern University

Jasmine B. Gunter, Tor Campbell, and Manna-Symone Middlebrooks

Evanston, IL — Every year Northwestern University, along with other universities across the nation, bring in an MFA directing cohort of one to three people. Many talented hopefuls apply for these positions. Getting accepted into an MFA directing program is a strenuous, long and intense journey, even more so for applicants who have had to overcome barriers related to race to fulfill their artistic goals.

With Blacks continuing the fight for equal representation in the arts, STILL, every victory of being the first is monumental, yet with sorrow, we must ask why it takes so long for the barriers to fall.

All three were Northwestern University’s top choices to fill these positions, and when you look at their credentials you can see why.

Jasmine B. Gunter
Jasmine B. Gunter is a 2021 recipient of the Hangar Directing Drama League fellowship and a proud associate member of the Stage Director and Choreographers Society. Recent directing credits include Intimate Apparel (SUNY Brockport), Ghost Story (Kane Repertory Theatre), Lines in the Dust (Geva Theatre Center), Reroute (24 Hour Plays: Nationals). Assistant directing: Nina Simone: Four Women (Arena Stage), In the Heights (Seattle Rep), Quixote Nuevo (Hartford Stage/Huntington Theatre Company), and The Luckiest People (Actors Theatre of Charlotte/NNPN). As well as being a freelance director, Jasmine has a wealth of experience as a teaching artist. She taught for the Berkshire Theatre Group and the Redhouse Arts Center in Syracuse NY. Learn more about her at https://jasminebgunter.weebly.com/

Manna-Symone Middlebrooks
Most recently, Manna-Symone Middlebrooks served as the Casting Associate at The Folger Theatre from 2018-2020. She was Studio Theatre’s Artistic Apprentice for the 2017-2018 season. She has directed locally for festivals with Rorschach Theatre Company, Nu Sass Productions, and Post Shift Theatre Company. D.C assistant directing credits include The Amen Corner at Shakespeare Theatre Co.; The Folger Theatre’s productions of Henry IV, Part I and Amadeus; BLKS with Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co.; Turn Me Loose at Arena Stage; Studio’s productions of The Remains, Translations, The Wolves, Curve of Departure, and Skeleton Crew; Broken Glass at Theater J; Scarred for Life at American University; and The Ruiners: A Modern Romance at Keegan Theatre. Manna-Symone holds a BA in Theatre Arts from American University and is an alumna of The British American Drama Academy. She will begin her MFA studies in Directing at Northwestern University in fall 2020.

Tor Campbell
Tor’s experience is wide and varied, and have extensive creative direction credits both domestically and internationally, most notably in The Venetian Hotel in Macau, China. There he produced shows and ran the entire Playboy Bunny program where he was responsible for all aspects of its immense success, including sourcing and recruiting international talent, leading the training and development of dancers and performers and directing and choreographing a diverse repertoire of shows. On a national level, he has choreographed and directed numerous Musical Theater productions at several theaters in Los Angeles. Additionally, he has independently developed several innovative and unique Performing Arts programs, encompassing the many varied aspects of the Musical Theater experience, from casting and recruitment, the development of dance/voice/acting, to workshops in technical and stage management. He is a Musical Theater & Movement Professor at UC Irvine and teaches a course in Movement at Juilliard during the summer. Follow him on Instagram @thetorcampbell or Facebook: www.facebook.com/tor.campbell

The world of theater has too often been complicit in systemic racism. In an open letter addressed to “White American Theater,” released this week, 300 actors and playwrights such as Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Cynthia Erivo wrote of their frustration with the exploitation and exclusion they experience. Black Panther actor Michael B. Jordan made a speech at a Los Angeles protest pushing Hollywood to demand diversity. And in a Facebook post, playwright

Griffin Matthews outlined the racist incidents he experienced during the run of the musical he co-wrote with his now-husband. There is still much work to be done.

Yet, we see in this painful moment of reckoning a moment of opportunity to finally uproot the racism that is still embedded in the world of theater – a world that many would assume is open, diverse, and welcoming. The all-Black cohort at Northwestern is an important victory for Black artists during this tumultuous time. This cohort is a part of a movement towards greater representation, more autonomy for Black artists, and more opportunities for Black voices to be heard.


Willie Campbell