Tag Archives: Lewis Center for the Arts

Tiger of the Week: David Zabel ’88, Television Writer, Producer, and Co-Creator of ‘Mercy Street’

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

David Zabel ’88 (Courtesy David Zabel)

David Zabel ’88 (Courtesy David Zabel)

On Dec. 7, in front of a full-house audience of star-struck undergraduates and artsy locals, David Zabel ’88 spoke from a stage that supported the early days of his career — literally. It was at 185 Nassau, the longtime home of the arts at Princeton, that he spent hours and hours at late-night rehearsals and intensive writing workshops.

Once he discovered the theater at Princeton, Zabel said, his other interests (history, for example) quietly faded away. It snapped his future into focus.

“I was interested in a bunch of different things,” he said. “It was just theater that embraced me — earliest and most fully.”

Zabel is now an award-winning television writer, producer, and director. He wrote more than 45 episodes of ER, the medical series on NBC. He was the showrunner of ER for the program’s final five years, and he was also the showrunner and executive producer of Detroit 1-8-7 and Betrayal (both on ABC).

Zabel returned to 185 Nassau not as an actor, as he’d been as a student, but as the co-creator and executive producer of a new six-part Civil War-era television series on PBS that premieres this January: Mercy Street. The first episode will air Jan. 17 at 10 p.m. (after Downton Abbey). Mercy Street, PBS’ first American-made drama in over a decade, is based on real events.

After a special preview screening of the show and a presentation of a short video about Zabel’s work, produced by the Lewis Center of the Arts, Zabel shared the stage with Mercy Street cast members Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother), McKinley Belcher III, and Tara Summers, and historians James McPherson and Audrey P. Davis. Continue reading

Thesis musical examines gender neutrality, identity issues

By Cara McCollum ’14


From left, Madeline Cohen ’16, Gabriella Rizzo ’13, and Gary Fox ’13 perform a scene in “It Takes a Village,” a thesis musical by Sandra Fong ’13 and Emi Nakamura ’13. (Photo: David Kelly Crow/Courtesy the Lewis Center for the Arts)

Sandra Fong ’13 sat helplessly in the audience as she watched her creation come to life. “I hope I remember to breathe; I’m probably going to hold my breath ’til the end,” she excitedly whispered to a friend. By the end of Saturday night, she could breathe a sigh of relief after a run of three senior-thesis workshop performances went off without a hitch.

Twelve student performers sat in a semi-circle of chairs in the Marie and Edward Matthews ’53 Acting Studio, their music stands poised between them and the audience. They wore black and white, but the topic they sang about took on a decidedly gray tone.

It Takes a Village, the thesis collaboration between Fong and composer Emi Nakamura ’13, tells the story of a character ambiguously named “M.” as he moves to the town of Standard, USA, and struggles to live a “normal” life — or, as normal of a life as one can lead being raised gender neutral. M. (played by Terrence Fraser ’16), who wears dress-like tunics and enjoys both football and ballet, is confronted by the conservative citizens of Standard and pressured to conform to the stereotypes of his gender.

The topic of gender neutrality first piqued Fong’s interest two years ago when she read a news story about a family that had chosen to raise their child gender neutral, and was both surprised and saddened by the public outcry that ensued.

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Things to see and do: Reunions exhibits and performances


During Reunions, the Princeton University Art Museum continues its three-month exhibition of sculptures, collages, and other assemblages from German avant-garde artist Kurt Schwitters. It is the first overview of his work in the United States since his retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1985.

A selection of visual works by students in the Lewis Center for the Arts are on display at two sites: the Lucas Gallery (185 Nassau Street) and the James S. Hall Memorial Gallery (Butler College, lower level between Building A and Bogle Hall).

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Kelley ’79 talks about Princeton roots in campus visit

David E. Kelley ’79, the award-winning writer and producer of television hits like The Practice, Boston Legal, and Ally McBeal, spoke at Princeton Nov. 17 as part of the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Performance Central series.
In an on-stage interview conducted by Broadway producer Jordan Roth ’97, Kelley described an early foray into script writing at Princeton. Facing a deadline for a freshman course on Homeric literature, he decided to put his own spin on a class paper, writing a play that imagined Plato, Socrates, and Homer meeting in heaven and debating their views on literature. “I wrote a dialogue, turned it in, and then really ducked for cover,” he said.
The weekend after turning in the paper, Kelley traveled with the men’s hockey team to play Harvard and stayed behind in Boston, his hometown, missing class on Monday. He knew that skipping a lecture could cost him a letter grade – the professor, Lois Hinckley, had a rule against absences – but he decided to take his chances.

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