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Drama Desk Award–Winning Actress Visits Theatre and Dance

In Austin to perform her new play Let Me Down Easy at ZACH Theatre, acclaimed actress, playwright and professor, Anna Deavere Smith visited the Department of Theatre and Dance on May 1st to share her insight and experiences with an audience of students and faculty.

Held in the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre, the open discussion with Ms. Smith was an opportunity for students to learn about her work and the intimate creative process and performance of Let Me Down Easy. Inspired by a series of interviews Ms. Smith began conducting almost 10 years ago, Let Me Down Easy has evolved as she listened to the stories of doctors, patients, musicians, athletes, models, cowboys, and journalists including Gov. Ann Richards and Lance Armstrong.

MFA in Acting candidate, Smaranda Ciceu attended the discussion and asked Ms. Smith how solitary work on stage affects her daily life. Ms. Smith answered by saying, "She is not alone, she has the text. The text is constructed in such a way that pushes the energy forward to the end," Ciceu explained.

MFA in Playwriting candidate, Jenny Connell continued to describe Ms. Smith's explanation of her work. "The thing that most struck me, in listening to her, was the primacy she seems to place on LANGUAGE, the idea that in repeating and internalizing and SHARING the spoken word, we take it on in a way that makes it flesh...She was so clearly drawing on a broad and deep pool of knowledge, both about theater but about other threads of scholarship — it affirmed, for me, that it is our job to know about the world, and to let that knowledge inform not just our work, but the questions we ask that lead to the work," Connell said.

Ms. Smith's work in the theater explores American character and our multifaceted national identity. She has won numerous awards, among them two Obies, two Tony nominations and a MacArthur fellowship. She was runner up for the Pulitzer Prize for her play Fires In the Mirror. She is said to have created a new form of theater. Her work combines the journalistic technique of interviewing her subjects with the art of interpreting their words through performance. Other plays include Twilight Los Angeles, and House Arrest. The New York Times called her "the ultimate impressionist, she does people's souls." She has appeared on the television shows The West Wing, Presidio Med, The Practice, and the new Showtime television series, Nurse Jackie. Films include Rachel Getting Married, The American President, Philadelphia, The Human Stain, Life Support, and Dave. Her plays include Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992; Fires in the Mirror; and House Arrest. Her books include Talk To Me and Letters to A Young Artist. A professor at New York University, she is also the founding director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, a center for artistic excellence addressing social change.

Let Me Down Easy runs through May 10. $15 Student Rush Tickets available for all performances. 

Friday, May 8, 2009