Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Blog Entry Number 6

“The piece documents a critical time of racial division and civil unrest, not to place blame for what happened, but to help the process of healing through a kaleidoscopic and sympathetic rendering of different viewpoints.” (www.enotes.com)

Anna Deavere Smith took an interesting approach to documenting the Los Angeles Riots. She took an approach similar to Stud Terkels, but instead of writing down the interviews, she performed them. “Anna Deavere Smith's ground-breaking solo shows blur the lines between theater and journalism, using text from real-life encounters to create gripping portraits.” (
www.ted.com) I think this was a better approach because not only was it more interesting but it gave you a clearer picture of what the people were actually like. We are able to see it rather then just try and picture the words we are reading as it adds background to more then just words.

The idea of her portraying interviewees individually rather then showing the actual interviews made the viewer focus more on what she was saying rather than the look, race etc. of each person. Although she took on strong stereotypes when performing the interviews, I found this helped to paint a picture of what the interviewee was like. When I closed my eyes I almost forgot it was her performing, especially with the Korean representations because of the strong accents she applied to her speech.

But was this a real representation of truth? It is someone PERFORMING so how is that truth? I would argue this is a representation of truth because she is simply repeating or reiterating what the interviewees said to her. She is representing the truth of the event from the perspective of the people who were actually there. I think this represents truth more so than the media would because its stories from the people involved not an outside source. Playing devil’s advocate, we must also look at it from the perspective of what did she leave out? Just as the media can alter the news to their liking, so too can she. Anna Deavere Smith edited the interviews and took what would aid her on stage and be a good performance (similar to Terkel editing his paper so that it works the way he wants it to). How then, is it a representation of truth if she is changing it to her liking? I would argue that it is still a representation of truth because she is not changing what was said just simply choosing the best parts of the interview that would best help paint a picture of the riots, and what would best help the interviews to flow together, telling a story about what happened and what people were feeling during the riots.

Similar to Terkel, she interviewed many people about the Los Angeles riots (for Terkel he interviewed about working), interested in what these people had to say. She was interested in the community’s reactions to the riots, rather than just the overall riots themselves. I think that her approach was important in providing the public with the other side of the story. Her approach brought so much more depth and insight about the riots than the media ever could have done. It is so hard to get your voice out in the media because they edit so much; Smith’s approach allowed the community’s voice to be heard. The media is interested in the facts of the riots which tends to be very one sided. They take their information from an outside point of view and don’t necessarily get ALL the facts straight. The media is very selective in what it will show in order to shape its story a certain way. News stations tend to be very politically one way or the other and will shape their story in such a way that it aids to this point of view. What Smith allowed was for the public to see the ‘real’ or ‘other side’ to the story. She was on foot in the neighbourhood interviewing real people that were actually involved in the riots. She gets the perspective of a wide range of people in order to get a better sense of what actually happened and hear everyone’s voice; African Americans, Koreans, Caucasians etc. She brings all these different people involved in the riots together through her performances to create a story about the truth of the event. She talks to people involved in the riots, as well as the Korean store keepers whom were affected by the riots even though they had nothing to do with the issues at hand. The media didn’t necessarily mention much about the Korean store keepers, but Smith goes in and talks to them to find out how they feel about all that happened. As said in class, just by listening to people you can find a great deal about the world. Smith allowed us to learn about how the riots affected the Koreans, something that, had she not listened to what they had to say, the world may never have heard. Smith talks to all these different people to get their opinions and how they feel, showing a side to the story the news does not show. We learn facts and different opinions about an event that took place. Seeing it from so many different viewpoints allows the public to form their own opinion and not be forced to believe what the media wants us to believe.

The story that really got to me was the anonymous juror. She grasped the emotions of the juror so well, the emotion in her voice, even bringing tears to her eyes. It was such a believable performance. I think that she chose the perfect part of the interview to perform. It gave me goose bumps hearing about the hate mail blaming the jurors for the deaths during the riot. But what really disturbed me was hearing about the letters the KKK sent to the jurors supporting them and asking them to join them. It was creepy to think there are people out there like that.

I liked how, similar to Terkel, Smith maintained the dialect of those she interviewed. She took it further though and added costumes, settings, and accents which helped to paint a picture of the type of person she was performing. She takes on their personas, quirks, and mannerisms as she acts them out, emphasising what she calls the extraordinary speaking acts from the interviews. For example, when she is interviewing Elaine Young she mimics her twitch in her eye as she is speaking, as well as her obnoxious nasally voice. With Mrs. June Park she takes on the Korean accent and the anger that was felt towards the loss of a husband. With Charles Lloyd she takes on his fast paced speaking and excitement in his voice. “Smith also portrayed former Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates, Rodney King's aunt, a Latino artist, and many others; pieces performed in Korean and Spanish--which Smith studied for the play--required super-titles. "As she has narrowed the cast of characters for this show," observed Taper director Gordon Davidson in Performing Arts, "she has come to
embody each of them, recreating the rhythms of their speech; absorbing them into her bones" (www.answers.com). All of these quirks help to paint a picture of who she is performing and make the performance that much more real to the viewer. She weaves together fragments of interviews to create a story about an event – the Los Angeles riots.

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