Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Anna Deavere Smith - Let Me Down Easy

Some people may recognize Anna Deaveare Smith from her roles on “Nurse Jackie” and “The West Wing,” but I know her as the extraordinary author of one of my favorite books, Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts-For Actors, Performers, Writers, and Artists of Every Kind.  Published back in 2006, the book was recommended to me by somebody who knew I was a struggling artist, about to move to Los Angeles, and just at the beginning of my library degree.  I’d always been someone that enjoyed having one foot inside the creative door, while the other was firmly planted in the academic, so Smith’s approach to the arts was exactly the kind of voice I knew I could learn from and respect, not just because she is a distinguished professor from NYU who has received countless awards and degrees, but because like me, she wants to entertain while educating people about the social problems of our times.  Her book has been by my side ever since, the tattered cover and highlighted passages with handwritten notes, a reminder of this often challenging and confusing journey into becoming “The Stand-Up Librarian.” 

Through her words, she encourages me to continue on the often difficult path of artistry via an academic approach, with chapters like ‘Presence,’ ‘Discipline,’ ‘The Man,’ and ‘Procrastination.’  Today I am fascinated by the chapter ‘Failure,’ as it seems in trying to be both artist and librarian, I am having a tough time finding employment in the library field.  Smith says, “First of all, there is no failure if you’re trying hard.  Truly.  Second, if there is failure, we can learn from it.  Sometimes we try very hard and we fail, at least by our own standards.  We may have made mistakes, and the ‘failure’ shows these mistakes in the light of day; our failures illuminate new ways of doing things.”  Thanks to Smith’s words, I now see that I have not failed but instead found hundreds of new ways of doing things - I only wish they would help me pay my rent!

In Let Me Down Easy, Smith’s new one-woman show that I had the opportunity to see last night at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, CA, she “explores the state of medical care and the availability and efficacy of medical insurance in modern-day America.”  To create the show, Smith interviewed 320 people over three continents, 20 of which she performs in the show.  Smith becomes celebrities like Lance Armstrong, Eve Ensler, and Lauren Hutton, in addition to the former governor of Texas, Ann Richards, and Heavyweight Champion Boxer Michael Bentt.  Smith is brilliant as she morphs from one character to the next, with only the slight nod of her head and the removal of a jacket or ring.  Let Me Down Easy is yet another shining example of why Anna Deavere Smith is not only an artist and academic to watch and read, but a resilient and inspiring woman we can all learn from and admire.

Let Me Down Easy runs at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica thru July 31st, followed by an encore presentation at Berkeley Rep August 10 – September 4th.

To get tickets to the show:

For information on Anna Deavere Smith:

For a library copy of Letters to a Young Artist:

***A special thanks to David Kessler at The Broad Stage!