A Unique For of Social Justice: Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith is a major figure in the theatre and social justice world. On February 18, 2020, she performed at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in the Colwell Playhouse. This is the most unique form of social justice advocation I have ever experienced.

By Elena Grantcharski

The basis of Anna Deavere Smith’s performance was journalism. She would interview these people, pick out the ones that spoke the most and create them into one woman shows and full fledged plays. Her one woman performance was unique and a showcase of true talent because she had no costume, no props, and no stage decorations at all. She was wearing all black and the only tool she used was her voice. She showed the true power of using your voice. However, something important that she emphasized was that she was not giving these people a voice, these people already had strong and beautiful voices, she was just popularizing their stories to a wider audience. She would preface every character with a short introduction and then word for word use her voice to speak as if she were them. It took voice imitation to a whole other level, using it not just as entertainment but also as social justice and education.

Ticket stub for Anna Deavere Smith’s Tuesday night performance at the Colwell Playhouse.

I think this type of performance is uniquely different from news and documentaries. News and documentaries take interviews and analyze them and usually even twist them to whatever narrative they want. Anna Deavere Smith represents these people’s interviews as they are. Looking from a journalism point of you, her addition to the field is not just one of education as entertainment but also one of transparency. Additionally, the topics that she chooses to focus on are always relevant social justice topics that have not been properly covered by the mainstream media. The mainstream media cannot properly educate people in many cases, so she took it into her own hands.

Anna Deavere Smith during her Tuesday night performance.

As a history major, her performance told us a lot about America’s past. All the topics she covered were interviews with people who either experienced or were part of horrible crimes of social injustice. Her performances are historical in that they look at the past to educate people in the present. I’ve never heard of her but I’m glad I found out about her and her additions to the theatre, acting, and journalism fields.

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