*Anna Deavere Smith is an actor, playwright and professor who hails from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is best known for crafting one-woman multi-character works that bring America’s social issues to the fore and crafts them in a way that causes audiences to think beyond what their eyes see and their ears hear.
She is what actors refer to as ‘an actors actor.’
Someone who goes deep in crafting the many characters she portrays so that even the slightest nuance or characteristic, no matter how intrinsic, is delivered with an authenticity that touches an audience on the deepest level.
In her two week engagement at Santa Monica’s The Broad Stage, she brings NEVER GIVIN’ UP, a powerful theatrical exploration of civil rights that includes a seminal reading of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s landmark document, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
And accompanying her on this night, in addition to the passionate work of violinist Robert McDuffie and pianist Anne Epperson, was a pair of crutches which she cautioned the audience not to misinterpret as acquiring “for the sake of her art.” Smith was the unfortunate victim of a broken something or other in her leg, only days before the performance.
During the 90-minute performance, Smith also portrays journalist Charlayne Hunter Gault, Congressman John Lewis and others who audiences may recall from her play, “Twilight Los Angeles,” which deals with the L.A. riots of 1992; motivated by the barbaric beat-down by police of resident Rodney King; whose passionate cry for peace would later spawn the question, “Can’t we all just get along?”
King began writing his passionate “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” on April 12, 1963 on the only thing available to him at the time: pieces of old newspaper. He was incarcerated this time for civil disobedience. It was an open letter that defended the rights of people to initiate and participate in nonviolent means of advocacy in resisting racism and it spoke against them being complacent with the status quo that expected you to wait until justice happened in the court system. The letter was in response to the eight white clergymen who had written “A Call For Unity,” which was a critique of the civil rights demonstrations led by Dr. King.
King’s letter was first published in The Atlantic magazine.
Smith, who was selected to be the 2015 Jefferson Lecturer at the Kennedy Center, is the recipient of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize – one of the most prestigious awards in the arts; as well as the National Humanities Medal. She uses solo performance as a public medium to explore issues of race, identity and community in America. She is the perfect narrator of this letter so that the spirit of it will continue to speak to audiences old and new.
In addition to these performances at The Broad Stage, Anna Deavere Smith will hold two free community events while in the Los Angeles area. “Finding Beauty through Struggle” will be featured at the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 22, at 7:00 p.m. Smith and other artists will discuss the resiliency of the human spirit and how adversity can give rise to creation. The event, sponsored by the L. A. Times, will be moderated by Los Angeles Times correspondent Sandy Banks, with panelists Smith, Mark Steven Greenfield, J. Cheryl Bookout and Joe Hernandez-Kolski.
The second event, also sponsored by the L.A. Times, is called, “The Price Paid for Freedom of Expression.” It will be at The Broad Stage on Saturday, April 25, at 2:00 p.m. Joining Anna will be civic and political leaders who will discuss the role that free expression plays in civic engagement. The discussion will be moderated by Los Angeles Times correspondent Carolina Miranda and panelists will include Smith, John D. Spiak, Philip L. Sanchez and D’Artagan Scorza, Ph.D.
“NEVER GIVIN’ UP” is directed by Stephen Wadsworth with associate director, Mary Birnbaum. Lighting design is by Alison Brummer and audio by Ron Romano.
The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage is an exquisite 499-seat theater located at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica 90401. Remaining performances for the show are Saturday, April 25 at 7:30PM and Sunday, April 26 at 2:00PM. Ticket prices range from $26-$55, with prices varying by performance.
For more information visit www.thebroadstage.com or call the Box Office at 310.434.3200
See Anna Deavere Smith perform as a Korean shop owner in “Art in a Time of War” in the video below, where she is interviews by “Democracy Now.”
This piece was written by journalist and communications specialist, DeBorah B. Pryor