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Role playing: UWG theatre alum stars in Oprah-produced ‘The Color Purple’

University of West Georgia theatre alumnus Terrence J. Smith ’14 thought this to himself many times during his first day on set for “The Color Purple.” In this musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel about the struggles of an African American woman living in the South during the early 1900s, Smith plays Adam, son of protagonist and narrator Celie.

The cast and crew features legends of stage and screen – including Louis Gossett Jr., Taraji P. Henson, Quincy Jones and Fantasia Barrino – so the energy was palpable.

“This was my first time being on set with so many Black artists and creatives at once who had positions of power,” Smith recalled. “Seeing all these heavy-hitting actors, almost like royalty, walking around and stopping to talk to you. It was incredible.”

On the first day of filming, a surprise guest from the original 1985 movie visited – producer Oprah Winfrey.

“She gave this excellent speech, and it was so emotional,” Smith shared. “This was when it really hit me that I was taking part in a historic moment. I remember my eyes getting misty and feeling this overwhelming pride. When she spoke to me and complimented my work, my heart skipped a beat.”

From a child obsessed with the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” to a high school drama student then a UWG theatre major, Smith has been preparing for this role for a lifetime.

“My professors at UWG were able to provide a lot of hands-on, personal training catered to what I’ve needed to be successful,” he observed. “Not only are they teachers, but they’re also professionals who still work consistently in the industry.”

Smith also became close with other theatre students, notably Eric Graise ’15 – known for “Step Up: High Water,” “Locke and Key,” and the “Queer as Folk” reboot – and Candy McLellan ’16 – known for “Sweet Magnolias” and the upcoming “Florida Man.”

“I loved experiencing different people and learning different things about the world,” he continued. “It wasn’t until I graduated that I realized how much they all helped mold me into the person I am today.”

After graduation, Smith spent time at an Atlanta-area theatre company where he starred in adaptations including “Miss Saigon,” “Grease” and “Hair.” In 2018, he signed with the Alexander White Agency, which led to him booking well-known tv shows such as “The Wonder Years” reboot, “Doom Patrol,” and “Ozark.” He also signed on to his first blockbuster film, “The Tomorrow War,” starring Chris Pratt.

In the past couple of years, Smith has also been creating music, something he’s enjoyed since his time at UWG but never recorded anything until he was encouraged by other theatre and musical artists.

“In the wake of the George Floyd protests in 2020, my partner, Alexandria Joy, and I wrote a song called ‘8 Minutes and 46 Seconds’ to voice how we were feeling during that time,” he shared. “Filmmaker Aaron Strand made a music video/short film for the song that’s won a couple of awards, including the best music video at the Venice Shorts Film Fest 2020.”

What’s next for Smith? He recently finished a short film, “Westwood: The Blood,” which can be viewed on YouTube, and an upcoming Apple TV show.

But in between bookings, filming and recording, Smith can be found at Browns Mill Elementary School in Stonecrest, Georgia, putting on musicals with the next generation of actors as the school’s theatre teacher.

“Browns Mill is a Title I school, and most – if not all – of the students have no exposure to theatre otherwise,” he explained. “With very little funds, it’s a monumental task, but I have the most incredible team working with me. We’ve been able to blow the community away time and time again. I feel amazing when I book a new tv or movie role, but I’m probably the most excited when I watch my students get on stage and do things they never thought possible. That’s when I feel the most like a star.”

by Julie Lineback

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