The play was commissioned by Bruce Ferguson, director of Future Arts Research (F.A.R.), a new artist-driven research program at Arizona State University in Phoenix. Smith is among the artists inaugurating the F.A.R. program, which launched in 2008.
In 2006 Arizona State University's law school was named for retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor — the first U.S. law school to be named for a woman. The Arizona Project, which premieres at the Herberger Theater at ASU in Phoenix, AZ, Nov. 5, 7 and 8, "was inspired by an ongoing series of initiatives of the advocacy group Arizona Lawyers Honoring Justice O'Connor," according to a statement.
As in her well-known previous docu-drama works, including Fires in the Mirror, Smith will present "several interwoven monologues in this one-woman performance, drawing verbatim from a series of interviews she conducted over the course of three weeks in 2008."
According to production notes, "The Arizona Project presents the stories of Justice O'Connor, as well as those of more than 30 women with relationships to the American judicial system, including prison system employees, incarcerated women, female lawyers, activists and others. Without identifying a specific social agenda, The Arizona Project touches upon several contemporary issues through these diverse personal stories, including immigration, domestic violence, and the challenges faced by women living on Native American reservations." "Anna Deavere Smith's incisive, passionate work overlaps multiple genres, including documentary film, journalism, and biography, thus making The Arizona Project an exciting contribution to the inaugural year of F.A.R.," stated F.A.R. program director Bruce Ferguson. "Anna's a interdisciplinary approach parallels that of F.A.R., which re-envisions the traditional artist residency as an opportunity for participants to work with multiple departments throughout the university."
Writer, performer and teacher Anna Deavere Smith has earned acclaim for her investigations of American identities, as well as for her singular performance style. Through the use of social commentary and stimulation of public dialogue, Smith's work extends beyond the traditional boundaries of the performing arts.
A recipient of the 1996 MacArthur Fellowship, Smith's best known works include Fires in the Mirror, examining the racial tension between blacks and Jews which culminated in the 1991 riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. She received a Drama Desk Award and a Pulitzer Prize nomination for this work. In Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, Smith examined the civil unrest which resulted from the Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles. She also received a Drama Desk Award for this work, as well as two Tony Award nominations. Her most recent work, Let Me Down Easy, explores the fragility and resilience of the human body.
Smith has appeared in several films, including "Philadelphia" and "The American President," and had recurring roles on "The West Wing" and "The Practice." She is also in the current feature film "Rachel Getting Married." She is the author of two books, "Talk to Me: Travels in Media and Politics" (2001), and "Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts-For Actors, Performers, Writers, and Artists of Every Kind" (2006).
Smith is a tenured professor at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University and teaches courses on the art of listening at the NYU School of Law. She has also taught at Stanford University and the Yale School of Medicine.
A "groundbreaking artist-driven research program" based in downtown Phoenix, F.A.R. (Future Arts Research) will host 20–24 leading national and international artists, critics and scholars each year. Working with an applied-research methodology, participants will collaborate with various departments within the university and work closely with the surrounding community to explore new concepts, test new ideas, and present the results of their research. F.A.R. is an initiative of the university president's office, independent of the ASU's Herberger College of the Arts. In its first phase, F.A.R. participants "will focus on three areas important to Phoenix: new technologies in the arts; desert aesthetics; and issues of justice and human rights."
For tickets to The Arizona Project, call (602) 254-7399 or visit www.herbergertheater.org.