Neo- Spirituals

I create “Neo-Spirituals”—or a’capella musicals—consciously, methodologically, and specifically through the lens of African American performance traditions. Neo-Spirituals are descendants of Negro Spirituals, Black Folklore and Slave Narratives; and simultaneously, products of contemporary Black performance aesthetics (hip-hop, spoken word, R&B, the blues, etc). My work aims to continue the legacy of performance traditions that were necessitated to communicate the urgency of survival, identity, dreams, and autonomy. Technically, my plays are musicals, but that doesn’t capture their “soul.” Meaning: there is song, but its not about singing; there’s movement, but its not about dance; there are characters, but its not about acting; there is story, but its not about crafting a linear play. The dream is to explore the most compelling, honest, unflinching ways of approaching questions of humanity, inclusive of race, class, gender, and spiritual identity—in the service of unity through diversity, cross-community healing and understanding.

~Cristal Chanelle Truscott – PT Founder, Playwright & Artistic Director

Full-length Neo-Spirituals:

“Progress Theatre skillfully weaves a vivid tapestry of music, drama, humor, social commentary and emotion with astounding performances that command rapt attention…” ~Azizah Magazine

Progress Theatre's The Burnin'. Photo by Melisa Cardona

The Burnin’ (Now Touring)

Written/Directed by Cristal Chanelle Truscott Music by Heather Christian & Cristal Chanelle Truscott Choreography by Millicent Johnnie, Tiffany Gilbert and Ensemble Photo by Melisa Cardona

It’s 1940 in the fictional City of Antebellum. As the African American community prepares for the return of hometown hero Band Man, scheduled to play at the local juke, the White community organizes it’s Annual Pilgrimage Pageant; a celebration of Southern hierarchy as it was “Before the War.” Fast forward 75 years and post-Great Migration urban residents in the metropolis of Sittay gather to critique the policies and politics behind contemporary headlines at a spoken word/hip hop spot. When disaster strikes in both spaces and places, all involved are forced to examine the meaning of community, agency and identity in the blink of an eye. As history repeats itself, The Burnin’ straddles time between these two worlds, examining the possibility that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Burnin’ is made possible with funding by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Theater Project, with lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Additional funding by Hi-ARTS (Producers of the Hip-Hop Theater Festival) and by the National Performance Network (NPN) Creation Fund Grant, co-commissioned by Junebug Productions in partnership with Hartford Stage. The Creation Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.


They shouted and hummed their remixed spirituals between poetic monologues and at the end […] the audience exhaled in a roaring standing ovation.” ~San Francisco Chronicle


‘MEMBUH: Confessions of The Only Generation (a staged essay about memory/memories—both imagined and real—of an African American past, present and future)

Written/Directed by Cristal Chanelle Truscott Music by Maiesha McQueen & Cristal Chanelle Truscott When Lady, the oldest in a family of 20-somethings, becomes terminally ill, she gives her quirky relatives the task of recording their tumultuos family story in a time capsule for future generations. Combining musical theatre, dance, storytelling & spoken word, ‘MEMBUH (as in “Remember“) is a high-energy piece following this young family through the highs and lows of self-discovery as they search for the true meaning of freedom. As the family’s colorful, unpredictable journeys weave past legacies,—like a family legend that re-writes the founding of the Juneteenth* holiday—they also struggle with which legacies from their present day lives to pass on or leave untold. ‘MEMBUH brings issues of love, prejudice, family, history and memory to the stage, celebrating the often overlooked insights of today’s young adult generation. *Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the U.S. To learn more, visit:  


“PEACHES grabs at cliches of Black womanhood, deconstructs them…and by the end of this high-energy presentation, gets them to march to their own drummer.” ~Baltimore City Paper

  Peaches_3 PEACHES (a staged essay, a dream sequence, a theatrical hodgepodge inspired by a song by Nina Simone, a slave narrative, some Black girls in America and a 6yr olds dream timeline) Written/Directed by Cristal Chanelle Truscott Music by Maiesha McQueen With soulful music and poetic essay, PEACHES spans time through our nation’s memory to deepen the identity of the woman who may, at anytime in her life be called “Peaches”, an “angry” Black woman. Inspired in part by Nina Simone’s classic song, “Four Women,” PEACHES tackles head-on the stereotyping of African American female identity from slavery times to the present. Alluding to both academic and popular discourse on race in America, PT fuses elements of music, essay, traditional and non-traditional theater into a piece presenting a rich, complicated picture of Black female experiences in contemporary America. PEACHES is a project of the National Performance Network (NPN) Creation Fund Grant, co-commissioned by PS122 in partnership with New WORLD Theatre. The Creation Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.


“They got this power. It’s a phenomenon of ensemble spoken word.” ~WBAI/99.5FM NYC on “Live Commercials”

Short Pieces:

THE MANIFESTO & THE REPERTOIRE is a high-energy performance that merges excerpts from each of PT‘s pieces into a one-act theatrical interpretation of the company’s mission. An ever-changing event that evolves with the Ensemble’s growing body of work, THE MANIFESTO & THE REPERTOIRE exemplifies PT‘s versatility and their commitment to upholding traditions of art as activism by creating new theatre works relevant to contemporary urban landscapes. This performance is a popular booking for conferences, meetings, college and club events, African Heritage and Black History Month celebrations and other commemorative happenings.

LIVE COMMERCIALS are an unending combination of short vignettes that are performative definitions of Progress. These are presented at various venues (from spoken word events to concerts to panel discussions) to express via performance the mission of PT and further promote the theme of art as activism.