What is the state of American theater?
Anna Deavere Smith is an actor, a teacher, a playwright, and the creator of an acclaimed series of one-woman plays based on her interviews with diverse voices from communities in crisis. She has won two Obie Awards, two Tony nominations for her play Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, and a MacArthur Fellowship.
She was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her play Fires in the Mirror. She has had roles in the films Philadelphia, An American President, The Human Stain, and Rent, and she has worked in television on The Practice, Presidio Med, and The West Wing. The founder and director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, she teaches at New York University and lives in New York City.
Anna Deavere Smith: So I’ve been trying to contribute something about variety that I had hoped – and I haven’t succeeded – would change the very nature of the way theater is produced, and who comes to the theater. Because the theater is a very segregated place. Most of the people who go to theaters in this country are white people. My generation had many promising directors, and producers, and writers. And they’re not around. They’re not making theater, and it breaks my heart.
And I feel in some ways that I haven’t contributed nearly enough in terms of what my thought about that was when I first was studying acting in the theater where everybody on the stage was white, and everybody in the audience was white. And I thought, “That’s so weird!”
In San Francisco there’s Asian people up the hill. There’s black people across the bay. There’s every kind of person here. There’s Latinos all over the Mission. How could this theater of this town have everybody white on the stage, unless there was a black guy bringing in a pizza – a character bringing the pizza – everybody else was white? How can that be?
So I said well maybe if I figure out a way to bring in more colors of people onto the stage, more colors of people will come to the audience. That hasn’t happened.
Recorded on: Aug 22, 2007
Anna Deavere Smith discusses the state of American theater and the lack of diversity both on stage and in the audience.
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