Discovering the Better Parts of Herself – Stephanie Hickling Beckman

Written through a collaborative effort by Stephanie Hickling Beckman and Dannie Frey

Stephanie Hickling Beckman has been active in Asheville’s theatre scene since 1999, working with several local theatre companies as an actor, stage manager, and Director. As the Founder (2010), and current Managing Artistic Director for Different Strokes! Performing Arts Collective, Stephanie is dedicated to directing and producing theatre that expresses the diversity we encounter in our everyday lives and finding ways to recognize and honor our differences in a safe and positive environment.

Stephanie is personally committed to being an active part of her community and seek every opportunity to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion through her deep love of story-telling.

“I have been extremely blessed to discover and share the better parts of myself through Different Strokes! I am grateful that I get to contribute to positive change as an artist.” Different Strokes! Performing Arts Collective is the first, and current, Company in Residence at Wortham Center for The Performing Arts.

Here in her own words, Stephanie shares with us why her work matters to so many in the area:

“When I birthed Different Strokes! I was clear that I didn’t want to create just another community theatre organization. I wanted to grow a theatre in Asheville that could support the community by welcoming actors of color, and by creating a funding source that would also increase visibility for the non-profits working to improve the lives of underserved, and underrepresented people in our community.”

“Following each performance, we host a facilitated post-show discussion to provide audience members, and the cast and crew the opportunity to share their personal experiences with one another, and discuss how we might foster change within our own communities. I lead an organization built on social justice, with multiple and intersecting areas of focus. We believe that audiences look to the arts to see beyond themselves and their own boundaries. We believe the arts are a valuable educational tool capable of bridging cultural and social gaps. We believe the arts are a catalyst for social change and transformation. For each show that  Different Strokes! produces, we choose a local non-profit which shares our vision for a more cohesive and tolerant community, as beneficiary of a portion of our ticket sales.”

“To date we have supported twenty or so local organizations –including Building Bridges, Western North Carolina AIDS Project, Campaign for Southern Equality, Blue Ridge Pride, Center For Participatory Change, JCC, Four Seasons, Asheville Writers In The Schools, Youth OutRight, Asheville City Schools Foundation, Ladies Night Out, YWCA, Asheville Buncombe Institute of Parity Achievement, My Daddy Taught Me That, Arms Around ASD, Girls On The Run, Our Voice, Beloved Asheville, and others– to carry out their visions, and ours, for a better Asheville.”

Over the years, Stephanie has witnessed an increased deference toward producing works by female Playwrights, and Playwrights of Color, along with an increased instances of color-appreciatiative casting. Both of these trends enable women to be noticed and appreciated for their contributions, and we applaud Stephanie for her passion in seeing this happen.

While these are certainly positives in the field, there is still a lack of racial diversity among audience members, performers and designers and it is huge. The demographics of Asheville and the surrounding area have not made it easy to achieve the objectives on which our company is based. The lack of actors of color has drastically affected our ability to produce theatre that tells stories which are all-inclusive and feature people of color in non-stereotypical and unexpected roles – which in turn affects the popularity of our shows among audiences of color. It’s very circular process.

“I have been extremely blessed to discover and share the better parts of myself through Different Strokes! I am grateful that I get to contribute to positive change as an artist.” 

– Stephanie Hickling Beckman

Her Role Models

We find as women that many of us struggle to strike a the balance between business and friendship, since it can often be difficult to juggle the varying relationships. This is an area that Stephanie finds herself excelling: compassionate leadership, straight-forward communication, and meaningful collaboration supporting her in knowing the difference between business and friendship.

Stephanie has chosen three women who have had a tremendous impact in her life. And her last one, priceless. 

My mother – because she beat the odds against a pregnant, unmarried black teen-ager in 1963, and raised me to believe I could meet all the odds that would be stacked against me.

My grandmother – She was a very strong black woman who earned the respect of everyone who knew her, and raised the strong black woman who raised me.

Lydia McDaniel – the white woman who told me I wouldn’t succeed.

Leadership Advice

Stephanie believes that Leadership is kind of like baking a cake:

  • Know what kind you want to make, 
  • Make sure you have the ingredients, 
  • Measure out your ingredients (to make sure you have what you need). 
  • Mix, and stir, you’ll know by how easy or difficult it is to stir, and by how it looks, what you need more or less of.
  • Transfer it to the proper pan, and put it in the oven
  • Bake it – but keep an eye on the heat.

There are some great things ahead for Stephanie in 2020. We are glad we can be a part of this adventure with her by helping her reach a broader audience and influencing more perspectives through a full year at Wortham Center for The Performing Arts. Stephanie and her team are looking towards producing more shows that are culturally diverse in the coming year and beyond. Stephanie is also looking at more time and opportunity to expand her own mission to diversity the performing arts, by directing plays outside of Different Strokes!

Congratulations Stephanie, we cannot wait to see your shows in 2020!



Stephanie Hickling Beckman is a 2019 Women’s Leadership Award Winner in the category of “Arts & Culture.” This article was written to tell her story and recognize Stephanie as an exceptional female leader in Western North Carolina. A video interview will also be released in the B&Co Blog.

Want to see Stephanie accept her award at the upcoming 2019 Economic Bruncheon? Tickets are available for a limited time at