by Erin Doherty
Throughout 2016, our Year of Shakespeare in Wisconsin, we will bring you stories, events, lectures, performances, and more. All are part of our celebration of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Shakespeare in Wisconsin 2016 is dedicated to showcasing the depth, reach, and continued impact of Shakespeare.
On the evening of April 5th, almost 300 people gathered in Memorial Union’s Shannon Hall for An Evening with Anna Deavere Smith. They were treated to a moving and thought-provoking lecture on the lasting impact of the spoken and written word. Her lecture was part of Lit Fest 2016, which served to kick off Wisconsin’s Year of Shakespeare celebration.
Smith is an actress, playwright, and professor, perhaps best known for her television roles as National Security Advisor Nancy McNally on NBC’s The West Wing and as hospital administrator Gloria Akalitus in Showtime’s Nurse Jackie.
In the spirit of Shakespeare’s lasting memory, Smith spoke about her study of Queen Margaret in school before delivering a monologue performance about the experiences of marginalized Americans. In order to gather material for these performances, she travels the country and interviews people who have been eyewitnesses to events such as the Los Angeles riots and the Black Lives Matter protests. She used the anecdote about Queen Margaret and Richard III to introduce to the audience the idea of a person being “condemned to words.” From there, she transitioned into an explanation of her interview work.
“I have spent a long time going around where there is catastrophe to find people who are condemned to words,” she said. “[People] who are in a circumstance that is upside down and are trying to turn it right-side up…I’ve become very interested in America, and try, with my tape recorder, thousands of interviews later, to become America word-for-word.”
She gave monologues based on interviews she conducted with a variety of different people, including a Korean merchant affected by the Los Angeles riots, an eyewitness to the arrest of Freddie Gray, and former Congressman John Lewis. Smith was sent off with applause and a standing ovation.
A complete list of Year of Shakespeare events can be found at http://shakespeare.library.wisc.edu/.