TV and the Solo Performance


The Solo Performance Comes To HBO!

Thanks to my mom, who pays attention to news sources and happenings and who, thankfully, drew my attention to what I didn’t know which was that Anna Deavere Smith’s most recent solo performance, Notes From the Field, has been turned into a film that will be broadcast on HBO on Saturday, February 24th at 8:00 (times probably vary depending upon what time zone you are in). My mom, being my mom, also pointed out, and this was very early in the morning when I, for one, had just barely started blinking much less thinking, that this is fairly significant since it is a woman solo performance that is being featured on HBO and this at a time when so many male solo performers are being featured on Broadway. Nothing like a mom insight!

So if you’ve been following my blog and have been wondering what exactly a solo performance is, and have been thinking you’d like to experience one, and if you have cable as well as a premium subscription that includes HBO, and if you don’t mind postponing watching the last Saturday of the Winter Olympics (and I realize that’s a lot of ifs that may not hold true for you), then now is your chance to get a better sense of what a solo performance does. While a filmed solo performance is very different from a live solo performance, it’s a start. I did not have a chance to see Deavere Smith perform her piece live, but I did get to see a videotape of the production at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (which is also very different from a film version which is what is being broadcast on HBO) and it was very powerful, and even though I am the first to complain when I see a live production filtered through the camera’s viewpoint, I counted myself lucky to have been able to see it at all.

Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes From the Field addresses the school-to-prison pipeline and during the performance, she becomes many different people, including prison guards, officials, teachers, parents, students, and more famous icons like John Lewis (civil rights activist), James Baldwin (author of such works as Notes of A Native Son and Another Country), and Bree Newsome (the woman who climbed the flag pole to take down the confederate flag in South Carolina). Anna Deavere Smith’s ability to transform into other people is uncanny so that’s definitely one reason to watch, especially since it will give you a sense of what documentary theater can look like. Plus, the subject material is powerful and more than relevant, especially this week in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Like the young students who have walked out of their classes and into various political spaces demanding “never again” and insisting upon changes to the gun laws (and after hearing her brilliant speech, the high school senior Emma Gonzalez is my new hero), Anna Deavere Smith’s performance envisions a very different approach to the issues of gun control and the school-to-prison pipeline than to add fuel to the fire by arming teachers and students or by turning schools into police stations.

So if you’re anywhere near an HBO channel tomorrow, Saturday, February 24th, I encourage you see Notes From the Field. I guarantee it will get you thinking and will inspire the imagination.

And, if you do see it, don’t forget to let me know what you think. Even a sentence-long response will do.

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