Anna Deavere Smith; Portraying American Identities

On Tuesday, February 18, 2020 at 7:30 pm Anna Deavere Smith performed Snapshots: Portraits of a World in Transition. Her performance consisted of acting out several of her interviews with people around America, bringing her interviews to life.

By: Daniel Plata

Waiting for the performance to start

Anna Deavere Smith has a particular way of recording her interviews with people. When showing her interviews to people rather than giving out a video recording or transcript of conversation she acts them out. Anna Deavere Smith mimics the mannerisms, speech, and body language of the people she interviews and acts them out to show people exactly how her interview went down. Every time she switched interviewee her accent, body language, and tone changed dramatically, yet she did not engage with props or costume when portraying her interviewees. I think that this is an acknowledgement to the fact that no matter how well she manages to encapsulate an individual’s personality she knows that it will never be perfect. She doesn’t go over the top with her mimicry to show reverence to the person being mimicked, but still tries her best to recreate their personality. Anna Deavere Smith toes the line in her performance art.

Standing ovation towards the end of Anna Deavere Smith’s performance

Anna Deavere Smith’s performances are unique, there is a precision in how she is able to portray a person’s sense of self. News, documentary films, and written transcripts don’t encapsulate emotion like Anna Deavere Smith does. In traditional recordings only the raw information is given value, what did they say?, and when did they say it? Anna Deavere Smith focuses on how did they say it?, and why did they say it? Through her technique she is able to convey details lost in traditional recordings, she is able to interpret motivations, history, and reasons relating to why people believe and say things they say. She is able to provide context for why somebody believes in a conspiracy that Amazing Grace originates from African song, why somebody was so shaken by witnessing the brutality driven towards a shackled inmate, and why somebody is able to get up again after being bucked off a rampaging bull. Through Anna Deavere Smith’s performance viewers are able to connect, in an unprecedented level, to the variety of American identities present in this country.

Walking into the venue

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.