Anna Russell '14 Wins Fulbright Award
Russell, who has spent the past few years as the managing artistic director of the Allentown Public Theatre, will further her theater studies at the Universität Gießen in Germany.
Since her Haverford graduation Anna Russell '14 has been committed to working for social change through theater. For the last three years, as the managing artistic director of the Allentown Public Theatre, she toiled to make theater accessible to locals by staging performances outside of traditional spaces across the Pennsylvanian city and by devising new works in concert with community members to address social and political issues.
"I truly believe, in this time of great political turmoil, that the arts can be one of the most effective agents for positive change," said Russell. "They can bring communities together into common spaces and create shared experiences, which can open up productive conversation about difficult issues in ways that otherwise might seem impossible. They can bridge gaps between demographics that otherwise have nothing in common. The arts can reclaim public space for marginalized populations and can proactively shape who we become as a culture. This is the work I have been trying to do in Allentown, and this is the work I am committed to studying and pursuing in the future."
It was that commitment to reshaping the world via art that led the former theater major and film and media studies minor to apply for one of only 65 available Open Study Fulbright Awards in Germany, the home of Bertolt Brecht and his "epic theater," which aimed to "refunction" theater to a new social use. Russell was selected to receive that Fulbright Award, and later this month she will head to the Universität Gießen to begin a 10-month course of study. She foresees taking theoretical and practical classes and is hoping to study everything from "the politics of embodiment" to movement theater.
"I applied for a Fulbright because I am at the point where I want to begin graduate study, but I also want to expand my knowledge of and experience with practical application of theater principles, particularly regarding political engagement," she said. "I have been working in a very specific artistic niche in a very specific community, and I want to learn how political theater tactics play out elsewhere in the world. I am extremely interested in Germany's long history of political theater, and I think that it is one of the most exciting places for this kind of work at the moment."
While abroad, Russell will be busy inside and outside of the classroom. She hopes to connect with local artists who work with refugees. And, in addition to being a student, she will also be a teacher, giving free English courses at a local community nonprofit organization. She also hopes to find time for traveling across a country she last lived in during her 2013 semester abroad in Berlin.
"I am terribly interested in observing Germany's current political climate, which is full of controversy, much as the United States' is," she said. "I am interested to see how the political turmoil of Brexit and a general return to conservative thought has impacted German culture since ."
When her Fulbright year is over, next July, Russell plans to continue her theater education in graduate school.
"I am very much intending to continue my exploration and pursuit of theater as a political tool, both in my studies and in my practice," she said. "This has always been a focus for me, even while a student at Haverford."