Stories of Many Through One: Anna Deavere Smith

Ms. Anna Deavere Smith visited the Krannert Center of Performing Arts with an hour-long show delving into discussions about social issues through the perspective of people on the front lines in a style I describe as a mix between theatre and Ted talk.

Written by Grace Chen

Anna Deavere Smith

Before reading any further, I should mention that I am writing this piece as someone who did not love the show. I think Ms. Smith performed wonderfully but I am not her target audience and I did not know anything about her. Perhaps some research done on my part before the show would have given me more insight, however, I chose not to do that. Regardless, I did my best to pay attention to what was being said even if sometimes I found it difficult to follow along.

The stage with an absence of props.

Admittedly, this performance was truly something I had never seen before. Ms. Smith was able to create interesting narratives without any props on stage; she only had a table for water and tissues and a music stand for her notes. The lack of extravagance on stage allowed the audience to focus solely on her which only added to the audience’s focus. When talking about her interviewees, she turned into who the person was and spoke with their mannerisms. She performed with different accents while moving her body to emphasize the point being made. She was extremely engaging since her dedication to her message was obvious and her skill in acting only created a more enjoyable performance.

Ms. Smith was telling her audience serious stories like ones you may see in the news or in documentaries. She differs not only in terms of medium but also in artistic expression. In news, there is an anchor who talks at the audience. In documentaries, its message is communicated through word and video. In Ms. Smith’s case, she made her message personal even though she was speaking words spoken by others. She used her body, her voice, and an interpretation of other people’s voices. The audience would have been able to understand her point if she just played the recording of her interviews but, acting them out on stage allowed for a stronger connection between the listeners and the speaker. Ms. Smith also engaged with the audience through a Q&A and my favorite moment of the entire show: singing ‘Amazing Grace’ as an audience of about 100 people. This is something that would never happen when watching the news or a documentary.

My ticket in front of Krannert Center of Performing Arts.

Although this show was not my cup of tea, it may be of interest to you. You can find out more about her on her website. Happy reading!

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