Theater: A Study in Human Interaction - In Conversation with Stephanie Bradley Smith

3 min readDec 2, 2021
Photo by on Unsplash
Photo by on Unsplash

Theater is a mirror, a sharp reflection of society’ — Yasmina Reza

Thrilling, legendary and groundbreaking are powerful terms often used by audiences after watching theater performances. Theater has existed for centuries, yet its relevance, spark, and importance in society has not diminished.

With the rise of TV and internet, performing arts critics became increasingly wary about the survival of the performing arts — many believed that these arts would slowly become obsolete. Despite such fears, performing arts have not diminished, and continue to attract new talent and audiences. Perhaps an essential element of theatre’s attraction is the opportunity to observe human interaction in real time, particularly when the stakes are high or massive conflict erupts.

Numerous organizations are working toward keeping the magic of theater alive, prominently the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. They strive to create bold, courageous and provocative art in a thoughtful and inclusive environment.

Today, we are in conversation with Stephanie Bradley Smith who serves as a long-time board trustee and vice chair for the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

Stephanie, tell us briefly about the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and the work you do as board trustee?

“Steppenwolf Theatre Company has redefined the landscape of theater and over the years has become the nation’s premier ensemble theater. The ensemble is 49 members strong, and consists of remarkable actors, directors, and playwrights. As a board member who serves on the executive committee, my primary role is to sustain an environment for Steppenwolf’s art to flourish. As a not for profit organization, a key pursuit is to ensure the affordability of the art through strong financials; however, the strategic oversight is just as important. I work on the big-picture questions: How can Steppenwolf sustain its relevance in an ever-changing world where diversity and inclusion are paramount? How can the theatre contribute positively to the needs of the urban community in which it resides and thrives?”

One of Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s core values is IDEA — inclusion, diversity, equity, and access. As someone who holds the same values and is a creator of opportunity for women of color, tell us more about this.

I am extremely passionate about my philanthropic work and I believe that the work has to align with my values and interests. At Steppenwolf, I am energized by the increasing diversity of the ensemble and our plays and their ability to reach a broader audience. Along with serving as a board trustee at Steppenwolf Theatre I am also an active member of the Executive Leadership Council. I believe in developing leaders from diverse backgrounds to help position them for success and build inclusive pipelines throughout organizations.This is also the central theme of my research and writing. For much too long, people of color have not been integrated into the stories that have been told on stage. They have also not been integrated into the highest levels in organizations where the critical decisions are made. In the future, my goal is to continue to pursue avenues for inclusion.”

Thank you for sharing, Stephanie.

Steppenwolf operates as a not-for-profit organization relying on community support to produce or present up to 16 plays and nearly 700 performances, readings and other events every year on our three stages. The theater’s artistic and educational programs draw a multi-generational audience of nearly 200,000 from the greater metropolitan Chicago area, while our impact reaches well beyond this region with productions that tour nationally and internationally.

About Stephanie Bradley Smith: Stephanie is a business executive who specializes in human capital management and believes that the most crucial ingredient to success is talent. “You may have a genius idea, but without talent who are able to bring it to fruition, you’ll never achieve your goals.” Her areas of expertise are executive succession, leadership development, diversity and inclusion, and organizational effectiveness.




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