The Dignity Tour: Penn State laureate to visit Berks Oct. 15

September 24, 2014

READING, Pa. -- Susan Russell, associate professor of theatre in the College of Arts and Architecture and Penn State laureate for 2014-15, will visit Penn State Berks on Wednesday, Oct. 15, as part of her statewide “Dignity Tour” as laureate, in which she will lead a public Town Hall-style meeting on Dignity and Diversity at 1 p.m. in room 121 of the Gaige Technology and Business Innovation Building. This presentation is free and open to public.

During the year, she will visit all of the Penn State campuses and “appear at events to bring an enhanced level of social, cultural, artistic, and human perspective and awareness to a broad array of audiences,” according to the Penn State laureate website.

“I will speak about various languages of creativity, and how these languages can bridge communication gaps between diverse cultures and disciplines,” stated Russell, whose work has focused on engaging communities in conversations that examine issues of diversity and difference. “And I will work diligently to open dialogues between our campuses and communities that will foster, promote and maintain an environment where everyone — students and citizens alike — learns, experiences and creates.”

Russell uses her skills as an actor, stage director, playwright, author and speaker to advocate for human rights. During the open session, her interactive speaking style will engage individuals with questions and answers that touch on several topics and highlight who we are today and how we can create who we want to be in the future.

She also invites the college community to join the discussion on a newly launched website,, by uploading their own videos, images, music, commentaries and texts to deepen and inspire the conversation about dignity.

Since 2007, Russell’s yearly “Cultural Conversations” (CC) festival has highlighted the value of the arts in creating dialogues on diversity. It is the only university festival of its kind in the country and has brought local, national and international artists to the University Park campus to present dance, theatrical, musical and visual art works around the topics of race, gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, religion, violence against women, body image, bullying, childhood sexual assault, and gun control.

The core programming of CC is "Body Language," a storytelling project that has helped hundreds of middle, high school and university students talk about how social issues affect their day-to-day lives.

Russell has also been part of unique collaborations with the Penn State College of Engineering and the College of Earth Sciences. Her work has been instrumental in the success of the MOOC “Creativity, Innovation, and Change,” and a groundbreaking National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that used storytelling and playwriting to explore the cultural and social risks and returns of natural gas drilling.

Russell’s books, "Body Language: Cultural Conversations Reaching Out and Reaching In" and "Body Language: Stop the Violence/Start the Conversation," are texts designed to offer day-by-day templates for school systems on how to use playwriting, media and public performance to explore issues that affect middle and high school students.

Russell graduated summa cum laude with a doctorate in theatre studies from Florida State University. She received her undergraduate degree in theatre from St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, N.C. Between educational pursuits, she experienced a 25-year career as a professional actor on and off Broadway — including five years in the Broadway production of "Phantom of the Opera" — in regional theatre and at opera companies across the country.

As a professional playwright, her works "Olympia" (1998) and "Present Perfect" (1999) have been produced by Lincoln Center and the Emerging Artist Theatre in New York City. Her play "Severe Clear" was a semifinalist in the 2006 O’Neill Theatre Center Playwriting Competition, and her 2009 play "Écoute: Pieces of Reynaldo Hahn" toured 40 venues in the U.S., starring Penn State School of Music faculty member Norman Spivey. Russell recently initiated a collaboration between the School of Theatre’s bachelor of arts program and Penn State’s Office of Student Affairs to produce student-generated films on drinking and sexual assault, and the first of these films will be shown to the first-year student class of 2017.

Russell, who teaches playwriting, history of American musical theatre, women in theatre, and graduate literature and criticism seminars in ancient theatre, won the Penn State Commission for Women's Achieving Woman Award in 2012 and the Centre County Youth Service Bureau's Dr. Edward Vogelsong Professional Excellence Award in 2013.

The Penn State laureate, an honorary position established in 2008, is a full-time faculty member in the humanities or the arts who is assigned half-time for one academic year to bring an enhanced level of social, cultural, artistic and human perspective and awareness to a broad array of audiences. As laureate, Russell plans to highlight, promote and enhance the programs at Penn State and in surrounding communities that work to address the many social challenges faced by young people.

For more information visit the Penn State laureate website.

  • Susan sitting at a piano

    Susan Russell, associate professor of theater in Penn State's College of Arts and Architecture and 2014-15 Penn State laureate.

    IMAGE: Patrick Mansell
Last Updated January 09, 2015