The University of Chicago and the Harris Theater Present Anna Deavere Smith and Cellist Joshua Roman’s Work-in-Progress Play "On Grace"

Released: 12/4/2013 10:00 AM EST
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Newswise — On Tuesday, Jan. 21, the University of Chicago and the Harris Theater for Music and Dance will present "On Grace," a work-in-progress staged performance conceived and created by renowned actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith in collaboration with cellist Joshua Roman. The performance will be directed by Leonard Foglia. The event is the culmination of Smith’s 2014 Presidential Arts Fellowship at UChicago and the first formal collaborative arts partnership between UChicago and Harris Theater.

Smith, a recent recipient of the National Humanities Medal and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, is known for her one-woman performances that meld theater, journalism and social commentary, as well as her acclaimed roles on the Emmy Award-winning television series "Nurse Jackie" and "The West Wing." "On Grace" is her first piece created and performed in partnership with a musician.

Prior to the Harris Theater performance, Smith and Roman will spend three weeks in residency at UChicago’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts working with the Theater and Performance Studies program as they continue to develop "On Grace." Throughout the residency, Smith and Roman will teach workshops for students, lead master classes, and host discussions with faculty, local artists, and the community.

The residency will feature a public conversation on the theme of grace between Smith and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle at the Logan Center for the Arts Performance Hall, Monday, January 13, 2014 at 7 pm. The event is co-sponsored by the Institute of Politics, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, and UChicago Arts. The event is free and open to the public. Walk-ups are welcome, though reservations are recommended at https://graceandpolitics.eventbrite.com.

Smith and Roman’s UChicago residency will culminate in the Harris Theater presentation, "Conversations on Grace," which will include a work-in-progress performance of "On Grace," directed by Foglia. The Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014 presentation and performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Harris Theater, marking Smith’s Chicago performance debut.

"Anna Deavere Smith is the perfect artist to extend this sustained engagement with our students and faculty beyond the campus boundaries through her work-in-progress On Grace," said Bill Michel, Executive Director of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. "We're honored to support the creation of new work by a renowned artist, and excited to do so in collaboration with the Harris Theater."

On Grace is a staged theatrical performance accompanied by Roman on the cello. In On Grace, Smith explores the idea of "grace" and in her signature brand of theater performs verbatim excerpts of interviews she conducted with renowned scholars, theologians, and politicians, including the late Rev. Peter Gomes, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and Rabbi David Wolpe. Smith first conceived On Grace while in residency at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

"A National Humanities Medal recipient, Anna Deavere Smith is one of the most talented and respected artists working today," said Michael Tiknis, the Harris Theater’s Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols President and Managing Director Endowed Chair. "Her unique ability to relate the social, political and cultural happenings of our time through novel storytelling is an unforgettable experience. We’re thrilled to partner with the University of Chicago and Ms. Smith to bring this latest work-in-progress to the Harris for a public audience."

The public performance at the Harris Theater, Conversation on Grace, will feature two parts: a viewing of the work-in-progress On Grace and an audience discussion. The audience will be invited to discuss their own conception of “grace” as it relates to their experiences.

Former Harris Theater Board Chair and University supporter Joan W. Harris remarked, "As the Harris Theater marks its tenth year we continue to emphasize our commitment to celebrating the performing arts, to collaborating with artists and arts organizations and to bringing innovative performances to Chicago. This first-time project with the University of Chicago and Anna Deavere Smith embodies all three intentions."

Tickets for the public work-in-progress performance at the Harris Theater are $25 general admission and $10 for students, now available online at harristheaterchicago.org or by calling the Box Office at 312-334-7777.

"The creative process often thrives in new environments," said Smith. "This latest project is meant to be inclusive – through ongoing conversations and communal experiences with a variety of people. I thank the University of Chicago and the Harris Theater for enabling Joshua and me to share our work with the greater Chicago community."

ANNA DEAVERE SMITH

Anna Deavere Smith, actress/playwright, is said to have created a new form of theater. Smith’s prizes include a MacArthur fellowship, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Award, the National Humanities Medal, two Tony nominations, two Obies, and others. She was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for her play Fires in the Mirror. Smith has created over 15 one-person shows based on hundreds of interviews, most of which deal with social issues. Twilight Los Angeles, about the Los Angeles race riots of 1992, was performed around the country and on Broadway. Her most recent one-person show Let Me Down Easy, focused on health care in the U.S. Three of her plays have been broadcast on American Playhouse and Great Performances (PBS).

In popular culture you have seen Smith in "Nurse Jackie," "The West Wing," "The American President," "Rachel Getting Married," "Philadelphia, and others." Her books include “Letters to A Young Artist” and "Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines." She has received several honorary degrees: among them those from Juilliard, University of Pennsylvania, Spelman, Williams, Northwestern, and Radcliffe. Smith serves on the boards of the Museum of Modern Art, The Aspen Institute, and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. She received the Dean’s Medal from Stanford Medical School. She is University Professor at NYU.

JOSHUA ROMAN

"A cellist of extraordinary technical and musical gifts" (San Francisco Chronicle), Joshua Roman has earned national renown as a cellist for performing a wide range of repertoire with an absolute commitment to communicating the essence of the music at its most organic level. He’s also recognized as an accomplished curator and programmer, particularly in his work as Artistic Director of Seattle Town Hall’s TownMusic series, with a vision to engage and expand the classical music audience. For his ongoing creative initiatives on behalf of classical music, Roman was named a 2011 TED Fellow, joining a select group of next generation innovators of unusual accomplishments who show potential to positively affect the world.

In the 2012/13 season, Roman makes his Los Angeles Philharmonic debut, performing Osvaldo Golijov’s Azul under conductor Marin Alsop. Other highlights include concerto performances with the New World Symphony, the Alabama Symphony, the Stockton Symphony, and the Asheville Symphony, and the world premiere of a new cello concerto by Pulitzer Prize-winner Aaron Jay Kernis with the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra. Also this season, Roman gives recitals in Vancouver, Madison, Chicago, La Jolla, Denver, and Seattle at the TownMusic series.

The Oklahoma City native began playing the cello at the age of three on a quarter-size instrument, and gave his first public recital at age ten. Home-schooled until he was 16, Roman then pursued his musical studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music with Richard Aaron. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Cello Performance in 2004, and his Master’s in 2005, as a student of Desmond Hoebig, former principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra. He is grateful for the loan of an 1899 cello by Giulio Degani of Venice.


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