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West Wing’ actor visits College

Laura Baumgartner | Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Renowned actor, playwright, author and producer Anna Deavere Smith, known for her roles in “The West Wing,” “The Practice,” “Philadelphia” and “The Americ-an President,” is a featured guest lecturer of the Saint Mary’s communication and performance studies department this week.

The College prepared for Smith’s arrival by introducing her work to the community – it hosted a free screening of the film “Twilight Los Angeles,” based on Smith’s Obie award-winning one-woman play, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night in Vander Vennet Theater.

As a theatre major, senior Rachel Sokolowski said she has especially looked forward to Smith’s visit.

“After graduation [theatre majors] have a huge variety of options, and it’s definitely exciting to see someone who’s taken herself so far in her field,” she said. “It’s very inspiring to have her come and share her thoughts.”

Smith will present a series of lectures open to the public over a three-day period. Assistant professor of communication and performance studies Colleen Fitzpatrick said Smith’s first presentation, “The Art of Listening,” will be targeted toward theatre majors.

“Smith will be working with the theatre students and actually running an interactive class with them,” she said. “I think it will be a great experience for the students and will really give Smith the opportunity to engage with our students.”

Fitzpatrick also said Smith will be having lunch exclusively with the students of the theatre department.

Theatre department chair John Pauley said he hopes Smith’s visit will “open students’ eyes to think about possibilities they might not have thought about,” especially those considering a career in the performance arts.

“What is particularly laudatory about [Smith] is the projects she is involved in have been especially relevant,” he said. “What she writes about are issues Amer-icans are dealing with, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully.”

Senior Kelly-Lynn Plush said she expects Smith’s visit to be a relevant and beneficial experience for herself and other theatre majors.

“Smith’s presence will provide theatre majors a glimpse into the world of theatre beyond our comfort zone here on Saint Mary’s campus,” she said. “Her experiences can provide [us] with valuable insights that can help to mold and shape our future careers, whether on stage, or behind the scenes.”

The Margaret M. Hill-endowed chair in theatre is sponsoring Smith’s visit.

Hill, a Broadway theatre producer and 1961 graduate of the College, established the endowment during the College’s sesquicentennial in 1994, Pauley said.

“Every year with revenues off the endowment, we can bring in someone in theatre and performance studies to speak to the community and work with theatre students in a rather short, concentrated format,” he said.