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W. Kamau Bell and Anna Deavere Smith

W. Kamau Bell and Anna Deavere Smith

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Former Frank Sinatra chairs Anna Deavere Smith and W. Kamau Bell return to SCU for a one-day reunion Jan. 22, hosted by The Center for the Arts and Humanities.

Former Frank Sinatra chairs Anna Deavere Smith and W. Kamau Bell return to SCU for a one-day reunion Jan. 22, hosted by The Center for the Arts and Humanities.

W. Kamau Bell and Anna Deavere Smith are picking up where they left off at Santa Clara University. The Frank Sinatra Artists-in-Residence from the previous two school years will return to campus January 22, 2019 for a one-day event featuring a screening of Smith’s recent HBO documentary Notes from the Field in Mayer Theatre at 7 p.m.

Notes from the Field started as a 2015 play written by Smith that used interviews of 200 students, parents, teachers, and administrators to investigate the school-to-prison pipeline. In 2018, HBO adapted the play to the small screen, earning a 2017 Obie Award and 2018 Golden Trailer Award nomination.

Bell, comedian and host of the Emmy Award winning United Shades of America on CNN, will host a talkback with Smith immediately following the screening.

“Both artists are celebrated as catalysts for social change and, while in Residence at Santa Clara, each in their own way left us to reflect and understand how to build empathy and reconciliation through dialogue,” Marie Brancati, director of strategic initiatives and partnerships for the College of Arts and Sciences, said. “Both touched on the relationship of language to identity.”

The reunion is a new wrinkle to the Frank Sinatra Chair in the Performing Arts offerings, which is traditionally confined to one school year. This year’s Sinatra chair, Taye Diggs, kicked off his Residency with a performance Nov. 11, but this is the first time former Chairs will come back.

“We had a lot of great and meaningful conversations when Kamau and Anna were on campus,” Christina Zanfagna, co-director of the Center for the Arts and Humanities, said. “This allows us to re-engage some of those threads and ideas.”

The interview-driven format of Notes from the Field should look familiar to the Santa Clara University community. Smith used a similar approach during her residency in 2016-17, using conversations with students, faculty, and staff to inform the student production of the devised theatre play, Welcome to Claradise.

“Listening is the superpower of Anna Deavere Smith,” Professor Aldo Billingslea said. “She’s built a career on going into locations in a moment of crisis, where people have often stopped listening to each other. And she’s made a practice of listening to all sides and to bringing those voices to life in such a compelling way that all sides can hear and be heard. It’s a superpower sorely needed today.”

Since last appearing on campus in spring 2018, Bell has stayed busy as well, releasing a one-hour special on Netflix titled “Private School Negro”—which he previewed at Santa Clara—and winning his second Emmy for United Shades of America.

During his Residency, Bell performed two stand-ups on campus—giving the audience a sneak peek of his Netflix special—moderated a panel of Bay Area artists, hosted a film screening with Dolores Huerta, and led countless workshops and in-class conversations for students.

“Kamau immersed himself in our campus and did what he does best—enter a community with respect and come to understand it from the inside out,” Brancati said.

Zanfagna says the January event with Smith will likely take a similar format to the screening with Huerta. She’s excited to see what the two acclaimed artists will have to say about the film.

“The whole idea of a Sinatra reunion is something we want to continue,” Zanfagna said. “It allows us to pick up on conversations where we left off. But it also serves as a way to maintain relationships with the Sinatra Chairs once their Residency ends.”

For more information on tickets, contact Marie Brancati ( after Jan. 16. 


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Former Frank Sinatra Artists-in-Residence W. Kamau Bell and Anna Deavere Smith