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Princeton must center more Black stories through expanding Black theater

A bed with fluffy green bedsheets and two pillows at the center of a black room, surrounded by decorative features like album covers, carpets, drawers, and plants.
Scene from “Love Type Beat,” directed by Tanéyah Jolly ’24 and Nica Evans ’24.
Jewel Justice / The Daily Princetonian

In February, I experienced a play that is rare at Princeton. It was created for Black women, about Black women, and by Black women. And it was powerful. “Love Type Beat,” written and directed by seniors Tanéyah Jolly ’24 and Nica Evans ’24, was an immersive play staged in the Lewis Center for the Art’s Wallace Theater about Black women and femmes’ many experiences with love, moving the audience through six vignettes of raw, intimate scenes. 

When the show debuted two days after Valentine’s Day, I could feel the love in the air. From conversations with other audience members, both Black and non-Black, many people felt it. This raises a critical question: Why don’t shows like this happen more often? There is so much communal and cultural importance in centering Black voices through Black theater — and Princeton’s theater department must do more to create spaces to center Black voices, beyond stereotypical archetypes and traditional modes of theater-making it has adhered to. 


Black students have few spaces on campus that are solely for them. These spaces are especially rare not only at Princeton, but PWIs more generally: Theater, and virtually every other space on campus, tend to be very white. “I don’t know if the show would have had the same impact if it was … at an HBCU,” co-director Evans said. “The stuff that usually gets put on here does not center Black women in that way. For the Black students, who are a minority here, being able to enter this space where they are the majority [is special].” Given this, it is particularly important that shows like “Love Type Beat” continue being produced at institutions like Princeton. 

The play’s immersive mode of presentation is powerful, and atypical for American theater. Instead of having a distinct “fourth wall,” typical of traditional American theater, “Love Type Beat” was interactive: In some scenes, the audience sat up close, on the same level as the actors, making the performance more intimate. In others, audience members intermingled with actors and were active participants in how the scene played out.

“[In] Broadway especially, you really are supposed to be quiet and watch,” co-director Jolly said. “That’s not really how Black folks engage with entertainment. You laugh [out] loud, you’re giving each other looks … you’re really in community.” 

Black theater, stemming from African diasporic storytelling traditions, emphasizes community-building rather than individual performance and incorporates call-and-response elements that invite connection and liberation. As cast member Runnie Exuma GS told me, this can “disrupt and disorient the ways in which stories can be told and staged.”

“Love Type Beat” embodied these elements of Black theater in its active engagement and outward expression. But this method has been widely unrecognized, and thus is in need of active, persistent support from the Princeton theater department — beyond just individual students’ projects, and into the fabric of the department. 

Princeton’s theater program should more deeply cover Black theater-making histories. With the implementation of minor programs this academic year, theater minors are now required to take Introduction to Theater Making, which is meant to give a foundational overview of a range of theater. However, the course’s only interaction with Black theater is Dominique Morisseau’s “The Detroit Project.” While “The Detroit Project” is written by a Black woman and centers Black life, Morisseau is more traditional in her theater-making.


And almost all courses — including Introduction to Theater Making — are taught from the perspective of traditional or “classic” American theater, which is white-centered. In addition, classes that dive deeply into Black performance and theater history, such as Black Performance Theory, are not required, so students might never learn about modes of theater outside of the traditional. And many years of students graduated without ever being exposed to Black theater-makers’ work: Prior to the 2023–24 school year, students obtaining a theater certificate simply had to choose a selection of five theater-related courses. 

Princeton currently isn’t designed to support non-traditional theater institutionally — plays like “Love Type Beat” have only been produced because of students themselves pushing the bounds of storytelling through their work. While “Love Type Beat” was a valuable project that proved to the Princeton community that there is a desire for Black stories, this was still an independently-led and temporary event. This puts the burden of creating spaces for Black people on Black students themselves, and it doesn’t examine the theater department’s role in what they could do to foster the creation of these spaces to begin with.

Beyond uplifting Black creators, these shows can also create space for Black community members: “Love Type Beat” was also special because it validated Black students’ experiences. Audience member Ayinde Bradford ’24 said making “experiences … that are so personal and so private available for all of us to see … [makes] us not feel alone.” For the cast, which was majority Black women, the play mirrored their experience: “these are our real experiences. There’s … certain things [in the script that] you will only get … if you’re Black,” cast member Oriana Nelson ’25 said.

“Love Type Beat” only ran for five shows, but it showed something much deeper: a community desire for this kind of art. According to directors Evans and Jolly, “Love Type Beat” sold out every show and opened more seats in its second weekend running to allow more people to be able to see the show. As cast member Maya Jaaskelainen ’24 said, “This is what people need.”

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“Love Type Beat” was more than a performance. It was a communal gathering, a site of healing and consolation, a source of hope and inspiration. It showcased Black women’s love in a very real and genuine way. Like such, more stories honoring and centering Black stories need to be told at Princeton, and the institution needs to provide more care for Black students in every department, theater included. Theater is “like play,” cast member Mollika Singh ’24 said. “It’s imaginative and fun. You know, if you have good leadership, it’s a …good place to strengthen friendships, build new ones, and just have a good time.” This is the theater future that Princeton needs to build: one that reimagines what it means to do theater and tells stories about people who have long been underrepresented.

Jewel Justice is a contributing columnist majoring in African American Studies. She can be reached at jewelj[at]