Anna Deavere Smith: Talking About Race Through Performance

[ 0 ] August 26, 2014 |

The role of performance has a very important job in tackling some of the most important – and controversial – topics in our society.

“We look for performance to do more than policy can do and to do more than what politics is – which is a political football, it’s about power,” says actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith. Policy can be very one-sided, she noted, and it doesn’t always solve the problem. Whether it be war, women’s rights, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, or other topics, performance can bring attention to things in a beautiful and thought-provoking way, and make people act on their own.

WATCH as Anna Deavere Smith, who is also a professor and who works at the Aspen Institute in creating an international community of artists whose work addresses the social issues of the day, discusses the role of performance when taking on difficult issues such as race:

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 2.06.37 PM“I think what a performance does is it moves not just minds but hearts,” says Smith. She believes in the power of performance to draw awareness to an issue and empower people to do something to fix it.

“We can think of great movies and great plays that have caused us to think differently,” she says.

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When it comes to the all-important issue of race, Smith says our aspiration should not be color blindness; rather, the real work should be on providing economic opportunity for people who are suffering and living lives of struggle and violence.  “I just think it’s a silly enterprise, quite frankly,” Smith says.  “What we need to do is take care of people, save lives and save communities.”

She adds: “We might be able to make our way around to color blindness but to me that’s not the point, the point is how are people living?”

Smith’s latest work, Public Forum: Talking About Race, brings together on stage leading artists and academics for a conversation about race in 2014 in response to two seminal conversations from history. Directed by  Smith in her classic “documentary theater” style, four actors perform excerpts of Mike Wallace’s 1959 interview with Lorraine Hansberry, as well as from Margaret Mead’s legendary 1971 conversation with James Baldwin. The performance features David Aaron Baker (Mike Wallace), Meg Gibson (Margaret Mead), Brian Tyree Henry (James Baldwin), and Katherine Ella Wood (Lorraine Hansberry). 

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Public Forum, now in its fourth year, presents the theater of ideas. It carries on Joe Papp’s mission of connecting the work of The Public Theater with the issues that face society at large. Curated by Jeremy McCarter, this series of conversations and performances features leading voices in politics, media, and the arts.

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Category: Film, Music and Entertainment, Lifestyle, Politics, Views on the News

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About Anna Deavere Smith: ANNA DEAVERE SMITH has been teaching acting for nearly forty years. She has taught in some of the nation’s most prestigious arts education environments. Currently a tenured professor at New York University’s Tisch School of [...]
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