April 05, 2017

Susquehanna University students will present Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror at 7 and 9:30 p.m. April 18 in Weber Chapel Auditorium. The play is free and open to the public.

Fires in the Mirror chronicles the aftermath of the 1991 riots that occurred in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York City. The riots began after a driver in Orthodox Jewish leader Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s motorcade lost control and killed a black child. The riots led the deaths of one Orthodox Jewish man and a non-Jewish man.

Dena Salerno, director of the Center for Intercultural and Community Engagement, said the play was chosen to explain how theatre can be a form of social activism.

“The play parallels what’s going on in our national dialogue, how we can experience one event but have multiple perspectives,” Salerno said. “The question becomes, how do we talk through multiple perspectives?

“The play also shows us how things can turn to violence so easily and escalate when we take the human being out of it and it becomes groups against groups.”

The play is under the direction of activist-in-residence and professional actor and director Dale Ricardo Shields. This is Shields’ second residency at Susquehanna. His first was in 2015.

“This is a volatile play,” said Shields, “and I applaud Dena and her program for existing because it lends another voice to these discussions.”

Real-life characters featured in the play include the Rev. Al Sharpton, playwright Ntozake Shange, social activist Angela Davis, and writer and social activist Loretta Cottin Pogrebin.

Shields said his direction has taken on equal parts theatre and history lesson.

“These are real people, I’m having students do a lot of research into these individuals,” Shields said. “They are learning about people some of them have never heard of.”

Shields was recently honored with the prestigious 2017 Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award. In 2015, he was nominated for the inaugural Excellence in Theatre Education Award, a collaboration between the Tony Awards® and partner Carnegie Mellon University. As an actor, Shields appeared on Saturday Night Live, Another World, Guiding Light and The Cosby Show. He has worked on and off Broadway, including various assignments at Lincoln Center, The Henry Street Settlement House, The Negro Ensemble Company and The Joseph Papp Public Theatre.