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“The Schaefer Center Presents” Features Actor-Playwright Anna Deavere Smith in a Livestream Presentation of “Reclaiming Grace in the Face of Adversity”

Actor-Playwright Anna Deavere Smith

The award-winning Smith kicks off the spring season on Thursday, Feb. 4 with a live performance that blends “theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie.”

The Schaefer Center Presents (SCP) performing arts series, presented by Appalachian State University’s Office of Arts and Cultural Programs, kicks off its Spring 2021 virtual season with An Evening with Anna Deavere Smith: Reclaiming Grace in the Face of Adversity, Thursday, Feb. 4 at 8pm. This one-time livestream event with celebrated playwright/actor/educator Smith features moderation from the Schaefer Center stage by Dr. Paulette Marty, Professor of Theatre Arts at Appalachian State University. Ms. Smith will begin the evening with a storytelling presentation live from her home in New York City. An interactive Q&A session will follow the performance. The event is free, but registration is required. The event is supported in part by the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series at App State.

“Reclaiming Grace in the Face of Adversity” was developed following research for Smith’s play Let Me Down Easy, wherein the playwright interviewed people in the U.S. and abroad who demonstrated grace in the face of dramatic challenges. Smith observed that, while we live in a winner-take-all society, part of our potential as humans is our potential for compassion and our resilience in the face of adversity. This storytelling speech celebrates the resilience of the human spirit, the power of empathy, the strength of imagination, and hope. 

Smith uses her singular brand of theatre to explore issues of community, character, and diversity in America. The MacArthur Foundation honored her with the “Genius” Fellowship for creating “a new form of theatre — a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie.”

“I’m so grateful to have the chance to talk to one of my heroes,” says Marty, who has taught Smith’s work in her classrooms for decades, and as a result, approaches the event with a unique frame of reference. “Her thought-provoking, moving plays are great fodder for class discussions about the power and function of the arts in society. Watching Smith’s plays has changed the way I think about current events. Because the characters in her plays offer many different perspectives on an issue, they have inspired me to wonder how unheard people have been affected by events in the news. Reading a news story, I’ll ask myself, ‘How must her parents feel right now?’ or ‘What happened to the people who witnessed this?’ or ‘What’s it like for him to be alone in that place?. I trace those questions back to hearing about people’s experiences in her plays.”

The Q&A session between Smith and Marty will follow the presentation of Reclaiming Grace in the Face of Adversity. Viewers are encouraged to put questions into the chat for Smith to address if time permits at the end of the regularly scheduled discussion. The virtual event is free of charge, but advance registration is required here. All registrants will receive a link to access the event both the day before and one hour prior to the performance.



As a complimentary companion piece to Smith’s appearance with the performing arts series, the acclaimed film adaption of Smith’s Tony-nominated play Twilight: Los Angeles is available to view at any time now through Feb. 4. The film tackles issues of race and social inequality that have become touchstones of her work. It can be accessed here.

Actor-Playwright Anna Deavere Smith. Photo by Mary Ellen Mark.


Playwright, actor, and educator Anna Deavere Smith uses her singular brand of theatre to explore issues of community, character, and diversity in America. The MacArthur Foundation honored Smith with the “Genius” Fellowship for creating “a new form of theatre — a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie.”

Best known for crafting more than 15 one-woman shows drawn from hundreds of interviews, Smith turns these conversations into scripts and transforms herself onstage into an astonishing number of characters. In her speaking events, Smith discusses the many “complex identities of America,” and interweaves her discussions with portrayals of people she has interviewed to illustrate the diversity of emotions and points of view on controversial issues.

Her most recent play, Notes from the Field, looks at the School-to-Prison Pipeline and injustice and inequality in low-income communities. Winner of an Obie Award and the 2017 Nortel Award for Outstanding Solo Show, Notes from the Field was named one of the Top 10 Plays of the year by Time magazine. The paperback adaptation of Notes from the Field is a collection of students and teachers, counselors and congressmen, preachers and prisoners, discussing their direct and indirect experiences with the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

In 2012, Smith was awarded the National Humanities Medal, presented by President Obama and in 2015, she was named the Jefferson Lecturer, the nation’s highest honor in the humanities. She also is the recipient of the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and most recently, the 2017 Ridenhour Courage Prize and the George Polk Career Award for authentic journalism.

Smith’s breakthrough plays, Fires in the Mirror, a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize, and the Tony-nominated Twilight: Los Angeles, tackle issues of race and social inequality that have become touchstones of her work. Her portrayals of patients and medical professionals in Let Me Down Easy delivered a vivid look at healthcare in the United States.

Currently, Smith appears on ABC’s hit series Black-ish and the ABC legal drama For the People. She is probably most recognizable as the hospital administrator on Showtime’s Nurse Jackie and the National Security Advisor on NBC’s The West Wing. Her films include The American PresidentRachel Getting Married, and Philadelphia.

Smith is the founding director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, which was launched at Harvard University and is now housed at New York University, where she is a Professor at Tisch School of the Arts. Her books include Letters to a Young Artist and Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines.

She has been an Artist-in-Residence at MTV Networks, the Ford Foundation, and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Smith was appointed to Bloomberg Philanthropies’ 2017 U.S. Mayors Challenge Committee, a nationwide competition urging innovative solutions for the toughest issues confronting U.S. cities. She holds honorary degrees from Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Julliard, among others.


The Schaefer Center Presents… SPRING 2021 Virtual Season

Events are FREE; advance registration is required at theschaefercenter.org. All registrants will receive a link to access the event both the day before and one hour prior to the performance.



Feb. 25 at 8pm: BalletX
This specially curated pre-recorded production of one of the country’s most celebrated contemporary dance companies includes a recorded introduction by BalletX co-founder Christine Cox, the BalletX 15th Anniversary Season documentary, and mixed rep selections “Increasing” and “Fancy Me.”

March 11 at 8pm: Steep Canyon Rangers
A livestream event brought to you straight from the stage of the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts.
Asheville, NC’s own Steep Canyon Rangers are GRAMMY winners, perennial Billboard chart-toppers, and frequent collaborators of the renowned banjoist (and occasional comedian) Steve Martin.

March 25 at 8pm: Best of the Appalachian Dance Ensemble
This digital compilation, a best-of showcase of student performances in App State’s Dept. of Theatre & Dance, features works from faculty choreographers.


Thank you to our SPC sponsors:

The Horton Hotel, Creekside Electronics, Boone Tourism Development Authority, Our State Magazine, Spectrum Reach, High Country Radio, WDAV 89.9 FM, WFDD 88.5FM and WASU 90.5FM.

**The 2020-21 Schaefer Center Presents season is funded in part by a grant from the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. www.NCArts.org 

**The BalletX presentation is funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Office of Arts and Cultural Programs at Appalachian State University.


About “The Schaefer Center Presents”

“The Schaefer Center Presents” is a series offering campus and community audiences a diverse array of music, dance and theatre programming designed to enrich the cultural landscape of the Appalachian State University campus and surrounding area. By creating memorable performance experiences and related educational and outreach activities, the series promotes the power and excitement of the live performance experience; provides a “window on the world” through the artistry of nationally and internationally renowned artists; and showcases some of the finest artists of our nation and our region. Musical events range from symphony orchestra and chamber music performances to jazz, folk, traditional, international, and popular artists. Theatre productions run the gamut from serious drama to musical comedy. Dance performances offer an equally wide array of styles, from ballet to modern dance to international companies representing cultural traditions from around the world. For more information, visit http://theschaefercenter.org.