Nancy Smithner, Ph.D, is a director, performer and specialist in physical, devised and community engaged theatre. She has explored multiple genres with large casts in her directing projects, including The Good Soul of Szechuan (Brecht), The Tempest, As You Like It, Macbeth, Love’s Labours Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare), The Eumenides (Aeschylus), The Imaginary Invalid (Moliere), School for Scandal (Sheridan), The Tales of the Lost Formicans (Constance Congden), Sonia Flew (Melinda Lopez), Mad Forest (Caryl Churchill); Tongues (Sam Shepard); The Memorandum (Vaclav Havel) and Voices of women: women’s stories on culture and identity, with contributions from women solo artists in NYC.
Highlights of Dr. Smithner’s devised work include The Last Rat of Thieresiendstadt, created with Hilary Chaplain, which won the Grand Prize for Best Original Play at the Lalka Też Człowiek Festival of 2018 in Warsaw Poland; A Chance Shadow, created with Spica Wobbe; Provocative Acts: (m)body, a play on perceptions of the body, created with graduate students at NYU, Suddenly there came a tapping: a retelling of the Raven, created with members of her company, the Ensemble of Movement Theatre, with whom she is in the process of devising a new children’s theatre performance work, Beyond the North Wind, with puppetry and shadow play.
Nan has created multiple site specific and environmental theatre works including Hear Them Roar: The Fight for Women’s Rights, a devised play about women’s suffrage in Washington Square Park; A Journey Through Time and Space, devised with middle school students of the Institute of Collaborative Education (ICE) in Stuyvesant Square Park; The Triangle Project, a play about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, in Washington Square Park and at the site of the fire; The Poetry Corridor, a collaboration with NYU Advanced Directing Students and middle school students of ICE, in ten floors of the stairwell of the Education Building; Traversing the High Line, devised with 12 NYU graduate students on the High Line in Chelsea; and Evolution, a play created with the inmates of Woodbourne Correctional Facility, staged in a prison gymnasium.
As an applied theatre practitioner, Nan teaches and directs in medium and maximum security prisons with both male and female inmates. She also worked for two decades as a pediatric clown doctor for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit, performing for children in multiple hospitals on pediatric floors and in emergency room clinics, cancer wards as well as intensive care and burn units.
Nan has taught workshops as an international scholar at the Central School of Drama, Beijing and the Shanghai Theatre Academy, China; Incheon Catholic University and Soongsil University, Korea; and Ping Tung University and Shu-Te University, Taiwan. For the Program in Educational Theatre, she has directed numerous study abroad programs in Puerto Rico, Dublin and London, and most recently led the Dean’s Global Honors Seminar in Sydney Australia. She has chaired many international forums for the Program in Educational Theatre including Performance as Activism, Theatre for Public Health, Theatre Pedagogy: teaching the art form, and organized a keynote panel for the Forum on Applied Theatre. Nan has frequently presented at numerous national conferences on her directing and teaching, and is a member of AATE and ATHE and serves as an Educational Consultant to Circle in the Square Theatre School on Broadway.
Nan oversees student teaching placements for the Program in Educational Theatre, and received the Steinhardt Teaching Excellence Award in 2005. She has taught and revitalized the following courses: Styles of Acting & Directing, Physical Theatre Improvisation, Introduction to Educational Theatre, Theatre History, Acting, Character Study, Advanced Directing, Images of Women in Theatre, Drama in Education, Student Teaching Seminar, Creative Play in the Arts, Community Engaged Theatre, Devised Theatre, Theatre of Brecht & Beckett, and Doctoral Proposal Seminar. Her research interests are physical and experimental theatre, devised theatre, community engaged theatre and postmodern and feminist theory.
- Smithner, N. (in print: anticipated publication date 2020) Meredith Monk: Five Decades of Embodied Innovation. Book chapter commissioned for Bloomsbury Publications: Great American Stage Directors of the Northeast: Richard Foreman, Meredith Monk, Robert Wilson
- Smithner, N. (2018) Introduction: Performance as Activism ArtsPraxis, Volume 5: 2.
- Smithner, N. (2017) “Teaching Artistry Full Circle: Formerly Incarcerated Students as Co-teachers” Teaching Artist Journal 15:1, 33-38, Taylor & Francis Group
- Smithner, N. (2012) Exploring Pedagogical Approaches in Applied Theatre in Correctional Facilities: Discoveries and Resonances for Arts-based Educational Researchers” in Taylor, P, ed. Theatre Behind Bars: Can the Arts Rehabilitate?” NY: Trentham.
- Smithner, N. (2012) Directing a Shakespeare Youth Ensemble through Physical Theatre: Case Narrative, in Landy, Robert and David Montgomery, Theatre for Change: Education, Social Action and Therapy, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Smithner, N. (2011) Creative Play: Incorporating play, liminality and ritual in teaching K – 12 in Schonnman, Shifra, ed., Key Concepts in Drama in Education, Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
- Smithner, N. (2010) The Women’s Project: Voices of Women -- a Director’s Perspective on Creating a Performance Collage,” ArtsPraxis: Volume 2.
- Smithner, N. (2007) Devising with Physical Theatre: An Eclectic Approach, Årsskrift 200, Danmarks Dramalærerforening.
- Smithner, N. (2005) Meredith Monk: Four Decades by Design and Invention, The Drama Review, Summer 2005, T186.
- Smithner, N. (2002) “Directing the Acting Ensemble: Meredith Monk, Elizabeth Lecompte and Anne Bogart,”Doctoral dissertation.