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Photos by David Handschuh
Q takes Manhattan: On Broadway (below) just before Les Mis opened in December

Stage Bright

Quiana Smith '00 is in the spotlight on Broadway and off.

“I don’t know where I am, but I’m here.”

That’s what Quiana “Q” Smith ’00 remembers going through her head the first time she set foot, as a transfer student, on the Ithaca College campus. Alone. In a city she had never been to. At midnight. In the pouring rain. Even so, she insists, “I was the happiest girl in the world.”

Now, more than nine years later, she laughs about her first meeting with the school that would shape her life, both personally and professionally. “A lot of things I do today revolve around my time at Ithaca,” Q says. And she does a lot of things.

One of the first two African American women to receive a B.F.A. in musical theater from the College, Q found herself in the whirlwind world of professional theater shortly after graduation and spent the next several years on regional, national, and international tours.

In January 2001 Smith decided suddenly to leave her hometown of Omaha, where she had returned after graduation, for New York City. She had $400 to her name. “It was so unlike me,” she says, “to just do it.” After paying the airfare, she arrived in the big city with $200, three suitcases, her teddy bear—and no plan.

After a few hours of sleep on a friend’s floor, she got up and auditioned for four shows. She got callbacks from all of them—and offers from three. She chose a national tour of Smokey Joe’s Café with Gladys Knight, launching her career into the big leagues—where she’s been ever since.

In October the BET J (the “J” is for jazz”) channel aired the miniseries A Royal Birthday, in which Q played Lauren, a spunky single mother joining her girlfriends on a Caribbean cruise to celebrate one of their birthdays. A month later she opened on Broadway as a swing (covering ensembles) in the return of Les Misérables, after a grueling weeks-long, six-day-a-week rehearsal period.

In between these gigs, Q has been researching and writing a book she calls Queens of Theater, exploring the experiences of women of color in the field. And she is planning a fundraiser (“likely a cabaret or one-woman show”) for the Hope Center for Kids, an outreach and ministry program in Omaha for which she has been working for two years. Q wants to start a school of the arts that will bring together the juvenile and education systems to develop discipline, focus, and confidence in at-risk youth. [Ed. note: See story in our last issue, “Sticks and Strings,” about Fe– Nunn ’80 and his arts education program for kids at risk.]

“Life is so short, and I’ve learned it’s not always about me,” says Q. “I’m one tiny speck in this world, and if I can do anything to help people, I will. I know how important it is to have dreams—and a support system [to help realize] those dreams.”

She’s quick to credit Ithaca College for nurturing her own big dreams. Q says she cannot adequately express her gratitude to the professors and students in the theater department, for helping her see everything in a new light and leading her to the place she’s happy to be now. “Ithaca,” she says, “truly means the world to me.”

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Love of Her Life
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