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Arts & Culture

“Human Library” Puts New Face on Learning at NextNOW Fest

Campus Arts Celebration to Feature 50+ Performances

By Sala Levin ’10

NextNOW Fest

Photo by Dylan Singleton

Photo by Dylan Singleton

Ever wanted to know what it’s like to live with a disability? Face religious discrimination for wearing traditional Islamic clothing? Be a police officer?

At today and tomorrow’s NextNOW Fest at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, you can learn about these experiences and more straight from a book—but not the kind you’re thinking of. In the Human Library project, people act as “books” visitors can “check out” and talk to about their life experiences.

The Human Library, presented at the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library, was conceived in Copenhagen in 2000 as a way for people to rethink their stereotypes and prejudices through person-to-person interaction. Since then, Human Libraries have been added to events and festivals around the globe.

Radcliffe Adler ’18 is one of the 17 “books” guests can check out at NextNOW Fest, the annual Terp-led celebration of the performing arts at Maryland. Adler, who identifies as neither male nor female, will talk to visitors about the day-to-day experience of life as a transgender and non-binary person.

“What I’m hoping for is that people walk away with the newfound understanding that trans and non-binary people take their identity into account in everything they do and that that identity and experience affect every single microcosm of how we live our lives,” Adler said.

The NextNOW Fest, now in its fifth year, is packed with 50 performances, classes and workshops spanning music, theater, dance, visual arts and more—all free. It is expected to draw thousands of attendees.

“Students are very heavily involved in the planning of the festival,” says Megan Pagado Wells, who helms NextNOW Fest as associate director of the Artist Partner Program. Students curate and perform, as well as participate in graphic, projection and lighting design, Wells noted.

Other highlights from the festival include:

  • Each year, the Alumni Commissioning Project supports the creation of new works by alumni of the School of Music and the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies. Among them, Kurt Chiang ’04, a member of the Chicago performance collective the Neo-Futurists, will oversee the production of 30 two-minute plays written and performed by current students and based on their lives. “Particle Collider” is a quartet written by Nathan Lincoln de Cusatis D.M.A. ’08 and performed by the TEMPO New Music Ensemble. “bio·mimic·cry,” choreographed by Chelsea Boyd Brown ’16, is both a satirical and serious look at our connection to nature and material goods.

  • Pennsylvania-based indie rock band the Districts was selected by a student curator to close the first night of the festival.
  • G Yamazawa, a Japanese-American spoken word artist, will blur the lines between rap and poetry during his performance.
  • The UMD Stand-Up Comedy Showcase will feature D.C.-based comedians Matty Litwack, Denise Taylor and Wendy Wroblewski, along with student comedians Grace Chubb, Koko Belikow, John Hendrick and Brian Lawrence.
  • The Local Music Lovers Stage, which Wells describes as “completely student-driven and -produced,” will host College Park-based musicians, WMUC deejays and speakers describing how they broke into the local music scene.  

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