Special Reports

MA Top 30 Professional: Alexa Smith

December 5, 2023 | By John Fleming

Senior Director of Anti-Racism, Equity, and Belonging
The Public Theater

For most of her career, Alexa Smith has been part of the classical music world. She studied voice at Roosevelt University and the Manhattan School of Music, sang in operas (her website is Recovering Soprano), was marketing director of New York City Opera, and served as MSM’s associate vice president for strategic innovation and special initiatives. It was quite a change in March when Smith moved into the theater world, becoming the inaugural senior director of anti-racism, equity, and belonging at New York’s Public Theater.

“Obviously, for me the departure from classical music was a big decision, but I’ve found that the theater world provides a good road map for EDI (equity, diversity, inclusion) and cultural transformation work,” she says. “What I really have loved is that my role is equal parts on the administration side and on the artistic side. I’m in the rehearsal room quite a bit, and spend a lot of time with directors, designers, actors, crew members. I find you can move the needle best when the administrative and artistic are in balance.”

The Public is a touchstone of the performing arts in America, with a legacy of legendary productions since its 1954 founding by Joseph Papp, including the premieres of Hair, A Chorus Line, and Hamilton. Key to Smith’s new job is the company’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Transformation Plan, created in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. “The plan is in its third year, and we are making a lot of adjustments in how we think about it,” she said. “At the Public, we understand that what we do ripples out throughout the industry, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”

In addition to getting her new post at the Public this year, Smith also saw the launch of the Duncan Williams Voice Competition for Black and Latinx singers, for which she is founding artistic director. Named for pioneering African American opera stars Todd Duncan and Camilla Williams, the initial competition drew almost 300 applicants and was held at MSM in February, with 10 singers awarded cash prizes.




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