Notes from the Field: You Got to Make it Your Business

Notes from the Field: You Got to Make it Your Business

Notes from the Field

Devastating. Phenomenal. Inspired. Those are truly the first words that came to mind when Anna Deavere Smith finished her two hour exploration of the education to incarceration pipeline that exists in modern America. The detail and depth of this dissertation is epic and powerful. To widdle this piece down to a few sentences feels like a disservice to her, and to us. In essence, Smith portrays an assortment of characters based on interviews with more than 200 people living and working within this country’s challenged education and prison system.  She personifies these real life counterparts in order to inform and reveal the truth.

Notes from the Field

Created, written and performed by Smith with music composed and performed by Marcus Shelby, and directed by Leonard Foglia, the expanse and detail of the topic is mind blowing and emotional. Tears trickle down my face as numerous souls describe their desires, their hope, and their frustrations about the present day obstacles for change and enlightenment. Here are the personal accounts of students, parents, teachers and administrators caught in America’s school-to-prison pipeline describing a hopeless generation of American youth and their almost impossible struggle to get out. Through the spectacular work by Riccardo Hernandez (scenic design), Ann Hould-Ward (costume design), Howell Binkley (lighting design), Leon Rothenberg (sound design), and most dramatically Elaine McCarthy (projection design), we are thrust deep inside a justice system that pushes poor disenfranchised minors from schools into prisons. Informing and pushing our buttons with the creative and dynamic use of video, imagery, quotes, music, and personal accounts. Personally, I’ve always believed in the power of education as the path forward and upward. Maybe it’s the Canadian in me, but the depth of this darkness enveloping America is truly upsetting to bare witness to, laid out so simply and masterfully before us.

Notes from the Field
To paraphrase; one character, when asked why she can’t just mind her own business when injustice is happening before her eyes, answers simple that you just got to make it your business (Niya). That when we see the problem, and we see the trouble, or the anger, or the acting out, we need to pull that frustration closer, and ask with love and care, ‘what’s going on’. Not to push it away; not to put distance or bars in between us and them, but to pull the broken in closer (Abby). Hug them and hold on tight until the anger subsides (Stephanie). To find out what happened in their journey through life: the trauma, the history (Victor). We need to see that ‘this is it’: the time for change. We don’t want to look back at this moment and say we missed it (Sherillyn), but climb that pole, and take a stand for what is right (Bree). People are tired of running (Kevin). Sometimes we need to stop, turn around, stand our ground (Allen), and ‘break that box'(pastor). We need to kick open that door and rise up (Jamal-Harrison). To do all we can in order to get out of the confines of what brought us here, to fight and try with all our might, in hopes of helping just one person break the cycle (Linda). This is where we need to invest (Sherillyn): Education. That is most definitely, the answer (Denise). Smith makes this argument with much more detail and depth then I could possibly make in this review. These powerful messages Smith serves will stay with you long after leaving the theatre. She wakes us up and preaches to us in a way that is subtle and stimulating. Tears will come. Trust me.  In a surprising moment or two. You’ll just have to go and take in her passion and mastery for yourself. You do not want to miss this.
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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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