Actress, playwright, and performance artist Anna Deavere Smith is best known for her Obie Award-winning Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Other Identities. Fires in the Mirror, which received a Drama Desk Award, is a one-woman show created from forty-six different character voices all relating the explosion of racial tensions between the black and Hasidic communitites in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in 1991. Her latest work, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, a performance piece dealing with the Rodney King case and subsequent riots, is part of the same ongoing series of performances based on interviewing, and then performing, people involved in specific controversial, public events. Smith is currently the Ann O’Day Maples Professor of the Arts at Stanford University. Tricycle caught up with Smith in Manhattan, following the Broadway run of Twilight.


From the opening performance of Anna Deavere Smith's one-woman show Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, in which she recreates the characters involved in the 1992 L.A. riots. From left, Smith as Angela King, the aunt of Rodney King; Reginald Denny, the truck driver beaten during the riots; and Young-Soon Han, whose liquor store was looted and burned. Twilight photos by Jay Thompson.
From the opening performance of Anna Deavere Smith’s one-woman show Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, in which she recreates the characters involved in the 1992 L.A. riots. From left, Smith as Angela King, the aunt of Rodney King; Reginald Denny, the truck driver beaten during the riots; and Young-Soon Han, whose liquor store was looted and burned. Twilight photos by Jay Thompson.

 

Tricycle: One of the things we talk about in Buddhism could be called “the position of no position,” in which liberation is encouraged, in part, by not being attached to a particular point of view. That seems to be the structural dynamic of your work.

Smith: I do believe that character is a process, that truth is a process, and I am not interested in winning and losing. There was recently an article in Newsweek by Joe Klein, a senior political editor, in which he talked about Clinton. One of the criticisms he has of Clinton is that Clinton talks about character, for example, as a process rather than as a fixed thing. Klein thinks that is disgusting. I think a person like that would be very disturbed by me.

Tricycle: What is the political benefit of not taking a position?

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