Margaret Mead and James Baldwin’s Iconic 70s Race Conversation Sparks in Groundbreaking New Work from Spectrum Dance


Innovatively Mixes Dance With Theatre to Enliven Current Conversations AroundRace and Equity – Created by Donald Byrd and Anna Deavere Smith

Seattle, WA (April 21, 2016) – Spectrum Dance Theater, in association with Seattle Repertory Theatre, presents the “genre obliterating” world premiere dance theater production A Rap On Race based on the iconic 1970 conversation on race between James Baldwin and Margaret Mead. Co-created by TONY-nominated and Bessie Award-winning director/choreographer Donald Byrd and Pulitzer-nominated and MacArthur Award-winning actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith, A Rap on Race enlivens the current conversation around race and equity, mixing dance and theatre to create a fully original, groundbreaking artistic work. Tickets are on sale now through the Seattle Rep Box Office at (206) 443-2222 and online at SeattleRep.org.

In 1970, these two towering personalities of American intelligentsia sat together and recorded a conversation about the defining subject of the American experience: race.  Mead, 68 years old, white and liberal, was the most famous anthropologist of the 20th Century. Baldwin, 46, black, living in exile in France, was one of the most prominent novelists. The two had never met before. Their conversation, carried out in three long sessions over two long days, was tape recorded, transcribed, and published as a book. Now over 40 years later, two contemporary artistic icons, Smith (best known for her documentary theater style in plays such as “Fires in the Mirror” and “Twilight: Los Angeles”) and legendary, local choreographer Donald Byrd, re-imagine this monumental moment in history through an evening of devised dance and theater.

In this innovative production featuring the world-renowned dancers of Spectrum Dance Theater, Julie Briskman (The Seagull Project) as Mead, and Donald Byrd as Baldwin, Smith and Byrd excavate the truths buried in the facts of this cultural artifact. But this cultural artifact, though over 40 years old, is far from archaic. “What is heartbreaking for me, is when you listen to these tapes that were recorded in 1970, the conversation is the same,” states Briskman.  “It has not evolved in the way that James Baldwin and Margaret Mead might have imagined that it would. It has not evolved to the point that I imagine most of humanity would thought it might have.” A Rap On Race will reinvigorate this conversation, providing a forum for honest, non-self-censored conversation — a theme present in all of Spectrum’s 2015-16 #RACEish season.

“Within the current dominant aesthetics of performance, virtuosity is often dismissed as empty display,” Byrd comments. “In this new work it is used as a means to communicate the complexities involved when talking about race, a topic that is decidedly necessary yet often deemed too difficult to address.” The work will take the form of a series of choreographed ‘physical duets’ played in tandem or juxtaposed with verbal duets gleaned from the Baldwin/Mead tapes. The physical duets are not fact but rather the explorations and search for truth that cannot be found within the limitations of language. “I think what we are doing in terms of our dance theater is really sort of genre obliterating. For A Rap On Race, dancing and physical theater play together in a unique way that truly reaches people and in essence defines a new sort of theater for the 21st Century,” Byrd concludes.

Public Programs

Pre-Show Talk Opening: Thursday, May 5 in the Leo K. Theatre

Post Show Talks After All Performances Following the Shows: Join Donald Byrd, Julie Briskman, and Spectrum Dance Theater dancers for an inside Q&A directly after the show in the Leo K. Theatre.


World Premiere!
Spectrum Dance Theater presents

A Rap On Race
in association with Seattle Repertory Theatre

Created by director/choreographer Donald Byrd (Tony Nominated and Bessie Award-winner) and Anna Deavere Smith (Pulitzer Nominated and MacArthur Award-winner Actress/Playwright)

This exciting new work centers on the ground-breaking 1970 recorded conversation on racebetween writer James Baldwin and anthropologist Margaret Mead. Byrd and Deavere Smith will use various renditions of the conversation between these two singular 20th Century voices to explore virtuosity, tonality, rhythm.  These artistic icons, Byrd and Deavere Smith, will ‘suss out’ the text for signs of its ‘virtues’.  Through an investigation of movement, text, and music, “A Rap on Race” will excavate new meaning from the cultural artifact and that will enliven the current  conversation around racial and cultural equality.

“A Rap on Race” is a creative inquiry on the role that race and ethnicity plays in our society.  It is a quest for a new kind of theatre where movement, dance, text, imagery, music, and sound co-exist to create an experience that nudges, prods, entices, seduces, and provokes the feeling and intellect of the spectator – a theater of mind, senses, and soul.

Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Leo K. Theatre
155 Mercer Street, Seattle

May 5-8, 12-15, 19-22, 2016
Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Sundays, 2:00 p.m.

$22-$42 — ON SALE NOW

For tickets, visit the online Box Office at: http://bit.ly/25XmG5R


Donald Byrd, the enfant terrible of the New York dance scene of the 1980s and 90s, achieved international visibility for the creation of the The Harlem Nutcracker.  Byrd is aBessie Award winner for The Minstrel Show and was nominated for a Tony Award for his choreography for the Broadway production of The Color Purple. Byrd’s body of work is varied and impressive, spanning more than four decades, pushing the boundaries of movement and message. The work may be purely an aesthetic experience or it may wrap itself around a compelling civic issue, encouraging a community to examine ideas and attitudes that it may impact.


Anna Deavere Smith has performed in film, television, and on stage. She currently plays Attorney General Mary Campbell on Madame Secretary and appears as Alicia on Blackish. She played Mrs. Akalitis on Nurse Jackie, Nancy McNally, the National Security Advisor, on the West Wing and was featured in the series Presidio Med. Smith has been featured in several films, including Rachel Getting Married, The American President, The Human Stain, Dave and Rent.  As a writer and a humanist, she has received numerous awards for her work including the prestigious 2013 Gish Prize for achievement in the arts, the 2012 National Humanities Medal presented to her by President Obama, and the 1996 MacArthur “genius” Award. In 2015, she was named the Jefferson Lecturer, the federal government’s highest honor in the Humanities.


Julie Briskman has performed in leading roles at Seattle Repertory Theatre, ACT Theatre, Seattle Shakespeare Company, and Seattle Children’s Theatre. National credits include: Yale Repertory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Trinity Repertory Company, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Arizona Theatre Company, Portland Center Stage, and The Guthrie Theater where she was a company member for seven seasons. Julie is the Founding Artistic Producer of THE SEAGULL PROJECT, co-founded with Brandon Simmons, where she has played Arkadina in The Seagull, and Olga in The Three Sisters, which received the 2015 Gregory Award. Julie is a recipient of the 2014 Lunt Fontanne Fellowship, studying under the tutelage of David Hyde Pierce, and was invited to return to Ten Chimneys last year for a Master Class on the Greeks led by Olympia Dukakis. She will be seen this Fall at Seattle Children’s Theater reprising her role as The White Witch in The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe. In February of 2017 she will take on the role of Ranevskaya in THE SEAGULL PROJECT production of The Cherry Orchard.


Under Donald Byrd’s artistic leadership since 2002, Spectrum Dance Theater has become the foremost contemporary modern dance organization in the Pacific Northwest, gaining recognition nationally and abroad.  For over thirty years, Spectrum Dance Theater has brought dance of the highest merit to a diverse community working to make dance accessible to all through contemporary dance performances and high quality dance training in a variety of dance styles.  Three components comprise the organization: the professional Company, the School and Outreach programs.  With Donald Byrd’s visionary artistic leadership, the organization has embarked on an exhilarating transformation that has attracted world class dancers, produced some of the most avant-garde works in contemporary dance, and generated local and national praise.  www.spectrumdance.org

For high-res photos, B-Roll footage, interviews, event access, or  more information, please contact:

Michelle S. Leyva
Michelle Sanders Communications
(206) 595-1151

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