The University of Chicago and the Harris Theater for Music and Dance will present next month On Grace, a work-in-progress staged performance conceived and created by renowned actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith in collaboration with cellist Joshua Roman. Leonard Foglia will direct the performance on Jan. 21, 2014. 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 7 p.m. at the Logan Center Performance Hall, on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. The free event is co-sponsored by the Institute of Politics, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, and UChicago Arts. 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, “Conversation on Grace,” which will include a work-in-progress performance of On Grace. The presentation and performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, 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 said, “As the Harris Theater marks its 10th 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.”
“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.”
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.