Princeton University’s High Meadows Environmental Institute and Lewis Center for the Arts and The Civilians theatre company announce The Next Forever

The Civilians, Princeton University’s High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI) and Lewis Center for the Arts announce The Next Forever, a one-of-a-kind partnership that will create new stories for a changing planet. This three-year initiative will explore how dynamic storytelling can engage vital environmental subjects and provide the vision and inspiration society needs to navigate the challenges of our planet’s future — the “next forever.”

“What stories can we tell to find our way out of the planetary crisis we’re in?” This is the urgent question that The Civilians, a professional New York City-based theater company, and Princeton University are putting to students, scientists, and theater-makers vis-à-vis The Next Forever. The crisis is environmental, to be sure – climate change, biodiversity loss, ecological collapse, food insecurity. But it’s also a crisis of imagination. As Rebecca Solnit has written for The Guardian, “We are hemmed in by stories that prevent us from seeing, or believing in, or acting on the possibilities for change.”

The Next Forever provides forward-thinking artists unparalleled access to a cross-disciplinary range of knowledge and ideas—of scientists, conservation psychologists, historians, policy and communications experts, and others. The intention of The Next Forever is to support artists as they pursue rigorous inquiry into their subject matter alongside some of Princeton University’s greatest thinkers.

This multifaceted initiative comprises a competitive commission-and-residency program for theater makers, an ongoing series of public events and performances, and an undergraduate course on narrative and the environment. It will fund two commissions of theatrical work that offer new visions for how we relate to the world around us. Additionally, The Next Forever provides artists with the opportunity to engage over a semester with Princeton faculty working in relevant fields.

Steve Cosson, Artistic Director of The Civilians, remarked, “I believe that the scope and complexity of the present environmental crises ask all of us to think beyond business as usual. The Next Forever is an invitation to artists who are eager to break out of the writing studio or the rehearsal room and develop new work in conversation with leading scholars and thinkers. I’m grateful to Princeton University’s High Meadows Environmental Institute and Lewis Center for the Arts for their generous support and vision.”

Gabriel Vecchi, Director and Professor of the High Meadows Environmental Institute and Professor of Geosciences at Princeton, commented, “We are excited to engage practitioners with faculty and students to seed new works of art with potential for opening dialogue and new ways of understanding the urgent environmental challenges that confront society in the 21st century. The novel partnership that we are embarking upon with The Civilians and the Lewis Center for the Arts reflects HMEI’s commitment to bringing humanists and scientists together for real world impact.”

Judith Hamera, Chair of Lewis Center for the Arts and Professor of Dance at Princeton, said “The Next Forever is an important example of how artmaking works: not only to create experiences we consume in the theater – though these are themselves worthy contributions to stimulating complex thinking about our most profound questions about our world and our responsibilities to it – but also as a set of processes through which this collaborative and interdisciplinary thinking happens. It is a pleasure to partner with The Civilians and HMEI to share both these experiences and these models of thinking with the campus community.”

As part of The Next Forever, two commissions will be awarded annually to theater makers to create original works that engage environmental subject matter. The initiative will also provide commissioned artists with the opportunity to engage with Princeton faculty, researchers, and students  working in fields relevant to their projects. Following the completion of the commission, further development of the new work with The Civilians is possible.

The Next Forever builds on a partnership between The Civilians and Princeton University that began in 2009 with the development of The Great Immensity, one of the first American plays to address climate change. Prior to its 2012 world premiere at Kansas City Repertory Theatre and New York premiere at The Public Theater, The Great Immensity was developed in collaboration with High Meadows Environmental Institute (formerly Princeton Environmental Institute) over two years. The play also received a work-in-progress showing in a collaboration between the Lewis Center’s Princeton Atelier and the Princeton Environmental Institute in 2010 at the Berlind Theatre at the McCarter Theatre Center at Princeton University. The cast album was released in 2022.

An early production of the climate change musical, The Great Immensity, presented by The Civilians, the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Princeton Atelier, and then Princeton Environmental Institute (now the High Meadows Environmental Institute).

Photo credit Denise Applewhite

Please visit The Civilians website for more information.


About the Civilians

Founded in 2001, The Civilians is a New York City company that creates exuberant “investigative theater” on vital social and political questions. They develop shows based on original interviews and research, and also nurture the work of leading playwrights and composers. Celebrated productions include “The Great Immensity” (a globe-crossing adventure on the climate crisis), “In the Footprint” (multiple top-10 lists play about urban development), and “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play” (fourth-best play of the past 25 years according to The New York Times). The company originated Lucas Hnath’s Dana H., recently on Broadway and included in Top 10 of 2021 lists by The New York Times and Time magazine and was the creative home of composer Michael Friedman from 2001 until his passing in 2017. The company is currently Artist-in-Residence at WNYC’s The Greene Space. Previously, they were in residence at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Top critics have called The Civilians “endlessly inventive,” and “groundbreaking.” Led by Founding Artistic Director Steve Cosson, The Civilians continue to reinvent theater for a world on the edge. Visit the Civilians website


About the High Meadows Environmental Institute

High Meadows Environmental Institute – the interdisciplinary center of environmental research, education, and outreach at Princeton University – advances understanding of the Earth as a complex system influenced by human activities and informs solutions to local and global challenges by conducting groundbreaking research across disciplines and preparing future leaders in diverse fields to impact a world increasingly shaped by climate change. More than 140 faculty, representing 30 academic disciplines, are affiliated with HMEI and contribute to the Institute’s environmental research and teaching activities. Visit the High Meadows Environmental Institute website


About the Lewis Center for the Arts

The Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University believes that art arises out of questions. Its classes and minor programs in Dance, Creative Writing, Theater & Music Theater, and Visual Arts, and in the interdisciplinary Princeton Atelier, operate on the principle that rigorous artistic practice is a form of research, innovation, discovery, and intervention. Like scholarship of any kind, rigorous artistic practice is a way of interrogating that which is accepted or understood in an attempt to break into the territory of the unknown or under-explored. Visit the Lewis Center for the Arts website