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Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith

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Also Known As: Anna Young Died:
Born: September 18, 1950 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Baltimore, Maryland, USA Profession: playwright, actress, director, teacher

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Smith was a journeyman actor and teacher before striking success with her one-woman production "Fires in the Mirror" in 1992, part of a series overall titled "On the Road: The Search for American Character". Drawn from personal interviews, the play explored the racial tensions that resulted from two events in a small Brooklyn community: a Black child was killed by a car driven by a Hassid; a Jewish scholar was stabbed to death reportedly in retaliation. Smith delineated portrayals of 19 individuals whose lives were touched in some way by the events. What emerged was a powerful meditation that posed questions about how people (and by extension the audience) integrate perceptions of specific events into the general context of their own lives. Smith was commissioned to create a similar piece on the Los Angeles following the 1992 riots that stemmed from the jury decision to acquit the police accused of beating Rodney King. Using the same techniques, she sketched a larger canvas in "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992", portraying over 40 characters. The play won acclaim and earned Smith two Tony nominations for Best Play and Best Actress.

Smith was a journeyman actor and teacher before striking success with her one-woman production "Fires in the Mirror" in 1992, part of a series overall titled "On the Road: The Search for American Character". Drawn from personal interviews, the play explored the racial tensions that resulted from two events in a small Brooklyn community: a Black child was killed by a car driven by a Hassid; a Jewish scholar was stabbed to death reportedly in retaliation. Smith delineated portrayals of 19 individuals whose lives were touched in some way by the events. What emerged was a powerful meditation that posed questions about how people (and by extension the audience) integrate perceptions of specific events into the general context of their own lives. Smith was commissioned to create a similar piece on the Los Angeles following the 1992 riots that stemmed from the jury decision to acquit the police accused of beating Rodney King. Using the same techniques, she sketched a larger canvas in "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992", portraying over 40 characters. The play won acclaim and earned Smith two Tony nominations for Best Play and Best Actress.

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 Life Support (2007)
3.
 Kingdom, The (2007)
4.
 Rent (2005)
6.
 The Human Stain (2003) Mrs. [Dorothy] Silk
7.
8.
 American President, The (1995) Robin Mccall
9.
 Dave (1993) Mrs Travis
10.
 Philadelphia (1993) Anthea Burton
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1974:
Made her stage debut in "Horatio"
1978:
Was an assistant professor of theater at Carnegie-Mellon University
1982:
Feature film debut, "Soup for One"
:
Taught acting at New York University
1983:
Made TV debut on the ABC daytime soap, "All My Children"
1983:
First play produced, "On the Road"
1986:
Moved to Los Angeles
:
Was a professor in the drama department at Stanford University
1992:
Breakthrough role as the solo performer playing multiple and diverse characters in "Fires in the Mirror"; also wrote play
1993:
Appeared in Jonathan Demme's film about AIDS and homosexuality, "Philadelphia"
1993:
Once again was the solo performer of multiple characters in "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992"; first opened in LA and later moved to NY; nominated for two Tony Awards for Best Actress and Best Play
1995:
Played the president's press secretary in Rob Reiner's "The American President"; scripted by Aaron Sorkin
1997:
First produced stage play with a cast of actors, "House Arrest: First Edition"
1999:
Reworked the stage play of "House Arrest" for the Los Angeles stage
2000:
Starred in film version of "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992"; presented in a special screening at the Sundance Film Festival
2000:
Had a recurring role as District Attorney Kate Brunner on "The Practice" (ABC)
2001:
Had a recurring role on the NBC White House drama, "The West Wing"; created by Aaron Sorkin
2003:
Cast in "The Human Stain," opposite Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman
2005:
Co-starred in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical, "Rent"
2007:
Played Deputy National Security Advisor in Peter Berg's "The Kingdom"
2008:
Co-starred in Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married"
2009:
Cast as hospital administrator Mrs. Akalitus in Showtime's dark comedy, "Nurse Jackie"
2009:
Headlined her solo show "Let Me Down Easy" at off-Broadway's Second Stage
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

American Conservatory Theatre: San Francisco , California -
Western High School: Baltimore , Maryland - 1967
Beaver College: Glenside , Pennsylvania - 1971

Notes

Smith received a 1996 MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.

"I wanted not just to be part of the theater 'tradition'. I felt that the theater tradition in this country was too far behind the times.I think that art is supposed to be ahead of the times.

"I knew that I could not rely on my theater colleagues to get me 'with' the times, so I knew I was going to have to find a way to use art to put myself among the American people, in order to discover something about the American character. That's why I go out and interview poeple instead of making up things in my head; there's a trap that every play that I did would have MY voice, and not an American one." -- Smith quoted in "Ms. Smith Goes to Washington" by Diane Haithman, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 1995.

"Maybe there is something more strategic to what I'm doing than I realize. It has always been my nature never to be trapped in any ghetto, and when I saw through my training as an artist that [theater] could be a ghetto, I immediately started to move away and to find allies elsewhere." -- from "Ms. Smith Goes to Washington" in Los Angeles Times, January 24, 1995.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Deaver Smith. Retired coffee merchant. Died in 1995.
mother:
Anna Smith. Elementary school principal.
sister:
Rosalind Allen. Born c. 1960.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines" Random House

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