Issue 2.1 Homepage

Article Contents
·On the "liveness" of a spectacle as a point of entry
·On readying an audience for a play
·On the relationship between the university and the theater
·On the call to witness, and the standing ovation
·On taking the theater seriously, both on the Right and on the Left
·On "bringing together people who know about organizing and activism with those who know how to bring you to your feet"
·On art and activism
·On finding an audience

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Anna Deavere Smith and Ann Pellegrini, "Performing Affect" (page 8 of 8)

On finding an audience:

Audience Member: [W]hat I wanted to know from you, particularly, is how you find the audiences? I listened to the tape of Fires in the Mirror on the New Jersey Turnpike every day for a year. It was very inspiring. And I was sort of bursting to share this stuff. And I really didn't have a kind of venue. I didn't have an audience, except for the friends that got tired of hearing me.

And so, there is a need. And I think that one of the things that September 11th might have done, is point to the need, the empty space in the core community and core people like all of us, to find new ways to create those communities. Do you have a comment?

ADS: Yeah, I think there is a lot in your question. One place where you went with it . . . well, two immediate places. One - I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for the Los Angeles riots. By that, I mean that when I went into rehearsal for Fires in the Mirror, my play about the riots of Crown Heights, the people in the theater working on it - the designers and so forth - all said, "Nobody is going to care about this."

And you've got to grab an American audience about race in very particular times. The thing people love to say is - "We're better now, isn't it better? You wouldn't be an actress with a successful career if it wasn't better."


And there I was just studying my lines and things like that. And we were impacted and aware of what was going on the in the world. And I went home and there were friends of mine on my answering machine, crying from Los Angeles: "Oh, my God, you have to turn on the television. I know you're in tech; you've got to see what's happening."

And the next day was the day of the first performance of Fires in the Mirror. And there we were sitting in the theater, and the general manager of the public theater came in and said, "This theater is closed" - which I was delighted about. I went to the demonstration in Times Square.

And so, I didn't have my first performance. But every night I felt as though I was being literally pulled, like a tornado, down to the theater because people were so upset about race that summer. Remember Sister Souljah and all those things? So unnerved - not so much about the Crown Heights riots, but about this other riot. So that second, there were people who wanted to hear about it.

But the other thing that your statement makes me think about is an interview I did with Barbara Ehrenreich, where she was talking about how we live, on the one hand in a society, that if my brother were to lose his job, it's not necessarily likely that I would say - oh, come to New York and live with me. Or that you would do that for your brother.

But on the other hand, we don't have any mechanisms of community to absorb people who needs things. And we tend to spend our time searching for intimacy with those who are closest to us. And it seems to me that the big question is - how can we be more imaginative so that we can expand the circles of intimacy that we have to include many more people?

And we need that because the family is not the place to absorb misfortune, distance and alienation anymore.

S&F Online - Issue 2.1, Public Sentiments - Ann Cvetkovich and Ann Pellegrini, Guest Editors - ©2003.