Top L-R: Queen Esther/Credit: Whitney Brown – Esraa Warda/Credit: Randy Poe

Bottom L-R: Ellen Winter/Credit: James Fin – Firas Zreik/Credit: Felicia Abban

Joe’s Pub, a program of The Public Theater, announces the artist selections for the 2023-2024 Joe’s Pub Working Group (JPWG). The working group aims to enrich the sustainability and growth of New York-based emerging and established artists by providing administrative resources, physical space, and curatorial services to cultivate a community where they can create and sustain work. Created in 2015, the program was conceived to address the rapidly shifting state of the performing arts in New York, and serve the overarching mission of Joe’s Pub: supporting artists on a cellular level and platforming underrepresented voices.

The artists are Atlanta-raised performance artist and vocalist Queen Esther, Algerian dance artist and educator Esraa Warda, queer composer and theater artist Ellen Winter, and composer and lyricist Firas Zreik, who is known for his Palestinian kanun expertise.

“One of the greatest joys in assembling each year’s JPWG cohort is to watch the interconnection between this group of far-reaching artists develop over the course of the year.  Each member brings their own expertise and inquiry to the group, and together create a microcosm of the city’s larger artistic community,” said Alex Knowlton, Director of Joe’s Pub. Previous JPWG members include Becca Blackwell, Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Celisse, Erin Markey, Michael Mwenso, Isaac Oliver, Samora Pinderhughes, Shaina Taub, Ikechukwu Ufomadu, and more.

Joe’s Pub also supports two other artist development programs, including the Vanguard Award & Residency, an award, and year-long performance residency that celebrates the career and influence of a singular artist who has contributed to American life and pop culture and is a part of the Joe’s Pub family of artists. This artist is someone who leads their own artistic community while creating a body of work that stands apart from their peers. The 2023-2024 Vanguard is five-time GRAMMY Award-winner, Angélique Kidjo, who has cross-pollinated the West African traditions of her childhood in Benin with elements of American R&B, funk, and jazz, as well as influences from Europe and Latin America. Kidjo’s first curation is Michael Olatuja & Lagos Pepper Soup on September 27.

New York Voices is an artist commissioning structure that, as part of The Public Theater’s long history of cultivating the country’s most celebrated artists, supports the creation of new works by critically-acclaimed musicians and performers. The program encourages artists to explore their storytelling, narratives, and songwriting processes and includes a variety of developmental and practical resources. This year’s artists are Dan Fishback, Omar Offendum, and Sarah Elizabeth Charles.

Learn more about the programs here.

About the 2023-24 Joe’s Pub Working Group Artists:

Queen Esther is a Harlem-based vocalist, songwriter, musician, and solo performer (1983 YoungArts winner in Theater) who uses her Southern roots as a touchstone to sonically explore cultural mores in America, deconstructing well-worn historical narratives and creating a reclamation-driven soundscape. She was raised in Atlanta and embedded in Charleston, South Carolina’s culturally rich and enigmatic Lowcountry – a region with African traditions and Black folkways that span centuries and continue to inform her work. Although she is often described as “…a Black Lucinda Williams…” (Vanity Fair), vocal descriptives have included “…Aretha Franklinesque…” (Feedback) and have shifted easily from Billie Holiday and Sly Stone to Sarah Vaughn and Melissa Etheridge. Her self-released critically acclaimed Black Americana album Gild The Black Lily continues to make waves since its March 2021 release.

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Esraa Warda is New York’s emerging dance artist and educator specializing in Algerian and Moroccan traditional dance forms. A child of the Algerian diaspora, Warda is a cultural warrior advocating for the representation & preservation of North African women-led dance traditions and the decolonization of euro-centricity, orientalism, and patriarchy in dance. Warda is a product of “popular education”; a student of intercommunal transmission of oral history and muscle memory from her family’s living room in Algiers. She continues with this essence both still as a student of elders and as an educator for the upcoming generations. Her dance workshops and lectures have trailblazed their way to educational institutions such as Cornell University, Wellesley College, King’s College (London), and the University of Ottawa. She performs with notable North African women’s groups such as Rai icon Cheikha Rabia (Paris), and  Bnat el Houariyat (Marrakech) and often performs internationally in New York, Paris, Belgium, Casablanca, and London.

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Ellen Winter is a song-singing queerdo, music producer, and teaching artist whose music fuses theatrical storytelling with dreamy synths and vocal stacks. She co-composed/wrote/directed 36 Questions, the world’s first Broadway-caliber musical podcast starring Jonathan Groff (Hamilton) and Jessie Shelton (Hadestown). In 2020, she released her debut glitter-fueled album, Every Feeling I’ve Ever Felt, and the record’s viral empowerment anthem “Mantras” hit #1 on the US In-Store Radio Charts. Ellen is a recipient of the 2021 Bryan Gallace/Posthumous Prodigy Productions Musicians Fellowship. Past Residencies include Ars Nova Makers Lab, SPACE on Ryder Farm, Mercury Store, Rhinebeck Writers Retreat, Berkeley Rep Ground Floor, and BarnArts.

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Firas Zreik is a Palestinian Kanun player, composer, arranger, and educator based in New York. Zreik combines his deep understanding of the Maqam (the scale system in the Levantine, North African & the Mediterranean region) with elements of modern global musical styles which he absorbed throughout his musical development, creating a fresh modern authentic sound, in a dazzling technique with the Kanun at its core.  Firas is the lead Kanun player and soloist for The National Arab Orchestra, the lead Kanun player for legendary Oud virtuoso Simon Shaheen, as well as the musical director for his illustrious mother Amal Murkus and her band. He has worked with international artists ranging from Roger Waters to Bassam Saba and performed at prestigious venues across the world including Boston Symphony Hall, Lincoln Center, Carthage International Festival, Savannah Music Festival, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, and the Smithsonian Museum.

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JOE’S PUB, a program of The Public Theater, was named for Public Theater founder Joseph Papp. Since it opened in 1998, Joe’s Pub has played a vital role in The Public’s mission of supporting artists at all stages of their careers with an intimate space to perform and develop new work. Joe’s Pub presents the best in live music and performance nightly, continuing its commitment to diversity, production values, community, and artistic freedom. In addition to one-night-only concerts and multi-night engagements, Joe’s Pub is home to the annual Habibi Festival, which hosts artists representing contemporary and traditional musics of the SWANA (Southwest Asia/North Africa) region, and The Vanguard Award & Residency, a yearlong curation series that celebrates the career, and community, of a prolific and influential artist, including Nona Hendryx, Judy Collins, Laurie Anderson, Barbara Maier Gustern, and Angelique Kidjo.

With its intimate atmosphere and superior acoustics, Joe’s Pub presents over 700 shows featuring artists based in New York City and touring performers from all over the world, and hosts over 100,000 audience members annually. Beyond public performances, Joe’s Pub also leads artist development programs like New York Voices, a commissioning program that helps musicians develop new performance projects, and Joe’s Pub Working Group, an artist-led development and collaboration cohort. Current commissioned artists include Dan Fishback, Omar Offendum, and Sarah Elizabeth Charles.

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