Conversations From the ‘Field’ with Anna Deavere Smith


Courtesy of Scott McDermott

HBO broadcasted Tisch professor Anna Deavere Smith’s one-woman show “Notes from the Field” this past weekend.

By Devanshi Khetarpal, Staff Writer

HBO partnered with the 92nd Street Y last Monday, Feb. 19, to bring actress and Tisch professor Anna Deavere Smith’s one-woman show “Notes from the Field” to the big screen. Smith’s stage show, which ran off-Broadway in late 2016, centered around America’s school-to-prison pipeline.

With HBO airing a live recording of “Notes” on Feb. 24, former Senior Adviser to President Obama Valerie Jarrett and CNN’s Van Jones sat down with Smith at the Kaufmann Concert Hall to discuss the film ahead of its release.

The invigorating conversation examined race, class and the politics of the criminal justice system in the United States today. The event focused on how to enact change from all corners of society — especially within a contemporary landscape riddled with division and hatred.

Jones started by asking Smith, the founder of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue at NYU, how she manages to take on the personas of real people and intimately engage with them, especially in the context of “Notes from the Field.” Smith replied by explaining how studies of drama have helped her better comprehend reality.

Having interacted with nearly 250 people from across various levels of society in America’s criminal justice system and its effect on minority groups, Smith developed a lens through which she could communicate comprehensively with audiences.

Jarrett, who has notably focused on education, equal opportunity and criminal justice, centered the conversation on the importance of cultivating empathy, juveniles and the system.

“How do we keep kids out of the system and make the system fairer?” Jarrett asked the crowd. “The key is to not deal softly with crime, but smartly.”

Looking at Smith’s extensive work in the field, Jarrett agreed on the solution of breaking down such large topics and themes in a way that makes people care about prisons and prisoners.

Van Jones furthered the conversation through a dialogue on the relationship between art and social change. Giving examples from his own show, “The Van Jones Show,” he spoke on how disagreement is integral to both consensus and understanding.

Smith agreed with Jones on the importance art has in social change, stating, “The art I believe in is the art of conversation.”

Responding to audience questions at the tail end of the event, Jarrett expressed the importance of us taking action.

“Come out of your comfort zone,” Jarrett said. “Listen to disagreement, and start local.”

The event ended with a standing ovation from the audience, who left the Kaufmann Concert Hall with renewed hopes at a time replete with fear and hatred. The voices and words in favor of love and empathy were heard loud and clear.

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