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  • Oh, But for a Fool
  • Anna Deavere Smith (bio)

Here follows a provocation for documentarians, those who cultivate the soil of reality: about making art out of the real, looking to the real to find new aesthetics, meanings, feelings that actors have been faking. It's only natural that we would look to the real to find…fiction. And what do we do now that we find out how easy it is to fake, even, say, a memoir (Million Little Pieces)?

I say we get real -er. And that may even mean changing course midstream, sending some of you off to other professions.

But my question: Does the academy help? Us get real? Perhaps if it's real we want, we should re call the fight about theory (real?) vs. practice (real?). Who's realer? Let's get real.

The world is getting dark, shadowed, framed-like Nairobi where cab drivers slip/slip through stop signs at night to dodge badmen with bad intentions. No street lights. Dim yellow high things here and there. Dim to the point of beige.

The theatre is all lit up…neatly organized on the page, being read nicely under low-hanging reading lamps. It safetied (sic) up and got between the fresh, crisp sheets of the academic world. Was that a mistake? Historically speaking? Actors were fools when the acad started you know.

I trained, in the '70s: to recite love sonnets, watch Biff and Happy with awe-filled intensity, hang upside down on a trapeze… This left me in the corner and it looked like all playwrights were white men, Lillian Hellmann, and occasionally, James Baldwin.

And then came you. TDR.

Scene: Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore. Summertime. Kaprow's happenings in a book down the shelf. Photos of Schechner look like my father, a black man; that fact, and his journals of Free Southern Theater make me think anythingspossible. (sic) You seemed like a liberator.

In the '80s, I trained for your fights.

I never made weight.

Your heavyweights wrapped their hands with shadows, frames, words. Hard-word ringsides closed in on more words, French words, etc.

You know: When Mohammed Ali danced, Norman Mailer was enchanted. (Sigh) When our dancers danced, the dances were interpreted, in words. Then those words were interpreted-in dance. It spiraled.


(Skanky gym. Loud tunes. ACTION, charismatic, is skipping rope. THE RAIDING HEAVIES, male/ female machos, kick through glass doors. Shattering.)


(Advancing, noisy) Freeze! WESAIDFREEZE!

(ACTION throws his/her rope down. She/he hits the mat.)

Just words, amplified-histrionic-theatre words, but still. Action had run a five-minute mile in a previous scene. [End Page 192]

Post-Play Discussion


Was Raiding Heavies' noise meant to distract us from the all-pervasive, ever-encroaching terror in the real world?

You went global, sponsoring white-collar fights.


Theorists in every discipline (except science, economics, war, and technology).


Called "Practitioners" (how clinical), not "Performers."

Controversy: Your Commission went with the Heavies' claim that they could perform on the page! Paper stages. The fights moved to the journals!!!!!!! Never face-to-face! Un-believable!

Face-to-face could have a comeback. Better be ready.

"Bring some bad intentions behind that right hand, Sis-tuh!" Michael Bentt, former world heavyweight champion, yells when we train in West Hollywood skank.

No bad intentions here.

The world is dark. The light is in the academy. Shouldn't it be roaming in the world, looking to light the shadows?

"When a boxer sees lights, he thinks he's knocked out," Michael Bentt told me.

My students pay 40 times as much as I did. Nothing left for flashlights when they're done.

Only a fool would talk to a heavy at the weigh in! Heavies are great at the psych out. Good at sizing you up, like they heard it all before.

There's a costly side effect of training to be the one who knows.

You can't know it all. Economists study how to make decisions "in the face of a profound ignorance."

Take cues from abstract painters. They paint about what they can't see and what they can't know...


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pp. 192-193
Launched on MUSE
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