Notes from the Field: “You Got to Make it Your Business”
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 whittle 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 .
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 bear witness to, laid out so simply and masterfully before us.
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.