Acclaimed actor Roger Guenveur Smith will be in-residence at the College of the Holy Cross from Feb. 22-23, 2016. His time at the College will include a performance of his award-winning monologue “Rodney King,” a screening of Spike Lee’s “A Huey P. Newton Story,” which was written by and features Smith, class visits, discussions, and workshops in conjunction with Black History Month. The residency is sponsored by Arts Transcending Borders.
“I am honored to bring ‘Rodney King’ to the College of the Holy Cross and I’m particularly excited to engage the student body in dialogue on the many questions posed by the show,” says Smith, “issues that are tragically relevant in our society today.”
Smith’s “Rodney King” monologue will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. in Seelos Theater. This powerful performance combines history, poetry, and tragedy as Smith tackles the thorny odyssey of Rodney King, a construction worker darkly deemed “the first reality TV star” when his violent beating at the hands of police in 1991 was caught on film. When the officers involved were acquitted the following year, protests turned into the deadly Los Angeles riots and King involuntarily became a martyr of police brutality. From harsh national spotlight to a lonely death at the bottom of a swimming pool, Smith offers a mediation on the flawed, yet goodhearted everyman and reveals America’s endlessly complicated relationship with its racial past and present. Smith’s monologue won a 2015 Bessie Award for Outstanding Production. There will be a post-show discussion with Smith and Michael West, associate professor of history at the College, followed by a “Meet the Artist” reception in the Seelos Theater lobby.
A screening of Spike Lee’s “A Huey P. Newton Story” (2001) will be held on Monday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. in Hogan 519. Adapted from Smith’s Obie-award winning play of the same name, this film explores the controversial life and times of the co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, Huey P. Newton. Smith draws from Newton’s unpublished manuscripts, recorded interviews, and correspondence, to bring passion and authenticity to this powerful film. The Peabody Awards said of the film, “As one of the most volatile participants in the era of the Civil Rights Movement, Newton can be seen as a microcosm for issues as diverse as community service and violent actions taken in the name of justice. All complications, ambiguities, and moral quandaries bound up in America’s ongoing struggle with racism are captured in this virtuoso performance.”
There will be a post-screening question and answer session with Smith and Scott Malia, assistant professor of theatre, in Seelos Theater.
Smith graduated from Occidental College in 1977 where he was a student of American Studies. He attended Yale University as a student of the inaugural class in Afro-American Studies and served as a research assistant for the Frederick Douglass Papers. He also attended Yale Drama School and hails originally from Berkeley, Calif. He grew up in Los Angeles and is a writer as well as a prolific actor, known for such roles as Nate in Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster” (2007), Rudy in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” (1992), and Smiley in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” (1989). Smith has also been featured on the HBO series “K Street,” “Oz,” and in “Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narrative.” In addition to “A Huey P. Newton Story” and “Rodney King,” his written work also includes “Frederick Douglass Now,” a current, ever-fluid interpretation of Douglass’ classic 19th century texts.
Arts Transcending Borders, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a new initiative designed to enhance the role of the arts in every aspect of the Holy Cross experience by infusing the arts into students’ academic lives and creating new opportunities throughout the curriculum and the community to cross cultural, geographic, and disciplinary boundaries.
These events, which are free and open to the public, are also sponsored by the diversity and inclusion office and funded in part by the Expeditions program of the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from the six New England State Agencies.
Too little is known about the first African American who was a US college valedictorian. It was Bishop Healy right here at Holy Cross in the 1840’s. I like to think that Holy Cross got started off on the right foot.