“I think the theater offers us right now two things that become increasingly important to me. I believe that theater is really a place where we can, together, seek meaning, and even if you’re not talking to the person sitting next to you, you may be aware that they’re crying when you’re laughing. And I feel in our country right now, in such a fractious society where you could live very well with the people who laugh when you laugh and cry when you cry, that it’s really important to know about that stranger sitting next to you.” —Anna Deavere Smith
Playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith spoke with Catherine Sheehy, chair of dramaturgy and dramatic criticism at Yale School of Drama and resident dramaturg at Yale Repertory Theatre, about the evolution of Smith’s one-woman show Let Me Down Easy and the theater’s important role in helping audience members to know “that stranger sitting next to you.” Co-sponsored by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, this event took place on March 27, 2011 and was part of the American Playwrights in Context series at the Philadelphia Theatre Company.
Anna Deavere Smith has created over 15 one-person shows based on hundreds of interviews, combining journalistic technique with the art of interpreting people’s words through performance. She was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for her play Fires in the Mirror (1992), which chronicled the viewpoints of people from two different communities, Black and Jewish, connected to the Crown Heights, Brooklyn, crisis of 1991. Her recent one-person show, Let Me Down Easy (2008), focuses on health care in the United States. Deavere Smith is also an accomplished television and film actress, appearing in series such as Nurse Jackie and The West Wing. She is founding director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue and a University Professor of Performance Studies at NYU Tisch. She has received two Tony nominations, an Obie, a Drama Desk Award, a Special Citation from the New York Drama Critics Circle, a MacArthur Fellowship, and numerous other honors.