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Justice and Incarceration Frame Mandell Presents' 2022-23 Season

Spiritrials by Dahlak Braithwaite

February 1, 2023

Drexel University’s Department of Performing Arts, housed within the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, announces its second annual Mandell Presents series. This season the series offers three presentations that explore impacts of incarceration. Two exceptional performing artists, Dahlak Brathwaite and Brent White, find ways through their respective personal experiences in Spiritrials and Broken Toy. It will then examine prison reform with special guest speaker, academic, author, cultural critic, and activist Dr. Baz Dreisinger.   


Dahlak Brathwaite: SPIRITRIALS 

Wednesday, February 15 | 7:00 PM | Mandell Theater 

Addiction, religion, and the law intersect in a timely and personal exploration of the criminal justice system. This multidimensional play takes its inspiration, as well as its name, from one of Dahlak’s most recent hip-hop albums, layering characters, poetic verse, and dialogue over the content of the songs to create a theatrical piece that blurs the lines between hip-hop and dramatic performance. A timely exploration of the criminal justice system, Spiritrials chronicles the journey of Dahlak’s own criminalization along with his struggle to be vindicated and decriminalized in the eyes of the law and society. The piece works through the personal shame of criminal stigmatization to examine the factors – both internal and external – that have misplaced him in what appears to be a cultural rite of passage.  The work is written and performed by Dahlak Brathwaite, with musical accompaniment by Dion Decibels, directed by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Sean San José, and produced by The Living Word Project. 

Brent White Jazz Ensemble: BROKEN TOY 

Wednesday, March 1 | 7:00 PM | Mandell Theater 

Broken Toy is a suite of jazz children’s music dedicated to all those who suffered emotional damage caused by losing a parent to incarceration. The arc of the compositions collected here both express and deconstruct the innocence, joy, and safety that children find in music. Brent White articulates his aesthetic sense, much of which issues from personal experience, in the traditions and historically responsive veins that flood into the recent 2021 recording, Broken Toy. As suggested by the title, the composition takes up the work of repairing what is precious in a child’s life. The music reveals Brent White’s constructive method in the madness that flows from the prison industry, from violence, and from poverty into our families and communities. Ultimately, the Broken Toy suite, offers children and adults alike a lesson on how to listen and heal. Audiences of all ages invited to attend.  Original composition and music direction by local Philadelphia jazz artist and Drexel Faculty Member Brent White.  The Brent White Jazz Ensemble includes Orrin Evans (paino), Ian Macaulay (guitar), Wayne Smith, Jr. (drums), Nimrod Speaks (bass), Brent White (trombone), Lauren Putty White (dance).


Thursday, March 2 | 6:00 PM | Mandell Theater 

Dr. Baz Dreisinger is the Founding Executive Director of Incarceration Nations Network, a global network that promotes prison reform and justice reimagining worldwide; a Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York; the founder of John Jay’s groundbreaking Prison-to-College Pipeline program, which provides university-level education and reentry assistance to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people throughout New York State; the author of the critically acclaimed book Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World, named a notable book for 2016 by the Washington Post; and the director of Incarceration Nations: A Global Docuseries, which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival 2021. A 2018 Global Fulbright Scholar and current Fulbright Scholar Specialist, Dr. Baz speaks regularly about justice issues on international media and in myriad settings around the world and is also a journalist who writes and produces for such outlets as The New York Times and National Public Radio (NPR). 


To help realize Drexel University President John Fry's goal of Drexel becoming "the most civically engaged University in the United States," Mandell Presents operates under a radical funding model with fully subsidized tickets. ​Both performances and the lecture are free, open to the public, and take place at the Mandell Theater, 3220 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.  Registration is required.  Reserve tickets in advance online:  

Mandell Presents is funded, in part, by the Samuel P. Mandell Foundation.  Drexel is grateful to the Mandell Foundation for its support in moving the Department of Performing Arts and the wider-Drexel community forward in its reach as innovative artist-citizens. 

For more information about the 2022-23 Mandell Presents series, visit the Department of Performing Arts website,