Academy award winner Forest Whitaker one of five to be honored by SDA at benefit celebrating 75 years of academics and artistry

Additional awardees include Michele Dedeaux Engemann, Grant Heslov and his company Smokehouse Pictures, Greg Holford and Donald Webber, Jr.

The Odyssey Logo

For over 75 years, the USC School of Dramatic Arts has been considered one of the world’s premier dramatic arts training institutions. To celebrate the triumphs of the past, the excellence of the present and the promise of the future, the School will host a hybrid benefit celebration honoring five of its most committed and illustrious alumni on September 9, 2021.

“The Odyssey: Our 75 Year Theatrical Journey: Past, Present and Future” will take place in front of the Bing Theatre on the campus of the University of Southern California and will be streamed globally for ticket purchasers to participate in this milestone celebration from wherever they are. Proceeds from the evening will provide vital scholarship support for the next generation of artists, and will strengthen funding for the School’s social change and professional development initiatives.

“For 75 years, our School of Dramatic Arts has been home to innovative artists who help breathe life into the stories that move and inspire us,” said USC President Carol L. Folt. “Their work on stages and screens everywhere still sparks our imagination – and tackles life’s questions with heart and empathy. My warm congratulations to all the students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, and community members who build on this legacy every day, especially the five distinguished alumni being honored for their contributions to theatre and to the arts at USC.”

The five awards presented during the evening showcase the breadth of experience, as well as the commitment, artistry, and engagement of the dynamic alumni of the USC School of Dramatic Arts.

Photo of Forest WhitakerActor, philanthropist, social activist, and UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation Forest Whitaker will receive the Robert Redford Award for Engaged Artists, which honors a performer who has distinguished themselves not only in exemplary quality, skill and innovation of their craft, but also in their public commitment to social responsibility. The award was named for its first recipient, Robert Redford.


Photo of Michele EngemannUSC Trustee Michele Dedeaux Engemann will be presented with the inaugural Alumni Service Award for her extraordinary and unwavering commitment and support of the School of Dramatic Arts. A philanthropist, actor, and businesswoman, Engemann has remained a champion for SDA across USC and beyond since her graduation and was the founding chair of the School’s board of councilors.


Photo of Donald WebberDonald Webber, Jr. will receive the Broadway Spotlight Award which recognizes an exemplary alumnus with a consistent and outstanding stage career. Webber, Jr. is one of only a few actors to have played both the roles of Hamilton and Aaron Burr in the renowned musical, Hamilton.


Photo of Greg HolfordGreg Holford will receive the Production Innovation Award which recognizes an alumnus who has shown artistry in the field of production (design, lighting, costume, stage management or technical direction). An award-winning creative and show director, Holford has created themed experiences and spectaculars all over the world for more than 35 years.


Photo of Grant HeslovGrant Heslov and his company Smokehouse Pictures will receive the Corporate Leadership Award which recognizes a company or producer who supports emerging talent. A four-time Oscar® nominee, Heslov’s work as a producer, writer, director, and actor, and that of Smokehouse Pictures (which Heslov co-founded with George Clooney in 2006) put the actor “front and center.”


“The vibrancy and creativity of the School of Dramatic Arts community are reflected in these influential alumni the School is honoring,” said SDA Interim Dean Elizabeth M. Daley. “As a decades-long admirer and partner of the SDA community from my position as dean of the School of Cinematic Arts, and as its current interim dean, it’s a joy to join the School and the university in recognizing the extraordinary impact these creatives have made.”

Co-chaired by USC parent Michelle Chiklis and SDA alum Shauna Reppe, the benefit event will feature pre-recorded and live performances, music, opportunities for engagement, and pre- and post-ceremony receptions. Though the number of in-person guests will be dependent on health and safety guidelines set by the County and City of Los Angeles, wherever you are in the world, there will be ample opportunity for you to connect with and support the School of Dramatic Arts.

“This is such an exciting moment for our school,” said SDA Vice Dean Lori Ray Fisher. “This benefit is an opportunity to raise needed funds for scholarship, professional development and social change initiatives. But we are also thrilled to launch a year-long celebration that not only recognizes the tremendous growth of SDA over the past 75 years, but also its future possibilities.”

Throughout the 2021-2022 academic year, the School of Dramatic Arts will offer open programming for alumni, students, parents, faculty, staff, donors and friends to participate in the celebration – from virtual readings to alumni events across the country.

Sponsorship opportunities and tickets for “The Odyssey: Our 75 Year Theatrical Journey: Past, Present and Future” Benefit on Thursday, September 9, 2021, are available beginning at $375 (with a discount available for young alumni). For more information on sponsorship levels or to purchase tickets, please visit