Online Hubbub: Aurélia’s Oratorio, Sunday, December 7, 2008

December 7, 2008

If you could learn how to perform one of Aurélia’s tricks, which one would it be and why?

“Oh my gosh….I guess I’d love to do the dance with the coat that keeps going back and forth between the dancers–or the trick with the white pants shared by the two figures in black who then become a third figure wearing white pants and seeming to be entirely separate from the other two.”—Steve L.

“The opening scene, in the drawers.”—Len E.

“All were great illusions.  For me, knowing how they do it takes the beauty of it away.”—none

If you could ask Aurélia to bring a dream to life for you, what would it be?

“Falling in love.”—Len E.

“She somewhat did it, by flying like a bird.”—none

Aurélia’s mother directed her in this production.  What artistic creations have you made with your family (in public or at home)?

“My sister and I read our poetry at a reading titled “Sibling Poetry.””—Len E.


Online Hubbub: The Communist Dracula Pageant, Thursday, November 13, 2008

November 13, 2008

What did this play make you think about?

“The nature of power and how power can delude one into believing that one is infallible and more intelligent and capable than one is.”—TVHC

“Just how torqued Romania was.”—RickF

“Eastern European Communism.  Ambiguity–not all black and white.”—Bill D.

Where were you when the Iron Curtain fell?  When the Berlin Wall came down?  What are your memories?

“I was on a consulting gig in Kiel, West Germany.  Couldn’t quite believe it was true and worried that the Soviets would come crashing through with troops and tanks.”—TVHC

What else would you like to say about the play?

“I found this a very one note production and not as thought provoking as the reality of the Ceausescu’s fall from power.  The A.R.T.’s Brecht productions have been much more thought provoking as was Peter Sellar’s production a couple of years ago.”—TVHC

“I really enjoyed it — it was well written and well acted. The last part with the dancing (partial) bears was just perfect.”—RickF

“Superbly done, as all ART productions are.  Would have gained immensely from some sort of introductory materials.  Program helped some, but it itself somewhat confusing. OK to assume audience is smart, but it was just not that informed on something that happened 19 years ago.”—Bill D.

Online Hubbub: The Communist Dracula Pageant, Tuesday, November 4, 2008

November 4, 2008

What did this play make you think about?

“The horror of living in a country run by a tyrant. Also, Elena made me think about Sarah Palin.”—Susan B.

“The absurdity of Ceausescu’s rule.”—Jon R

“My wife was in Hungary at the time  – the most significant and interesting issues were not covered. For example the revolution was triggered by the inhumane way that the regime treated a Hungarian priest.”—John H

Where were you when the Iron Curtain fell?  When the Berlin Wall came down?  What are your memories?

“I was living in Newton Centre. It did not seem possible. I thought Soviet rule was set in stone.”—Jon R

“I was dealing with my brother-in-laws death at 37 of AIDS and my own diagnosis of breast cancer at 43 years with 2 small children. I remember feeling dispassionate about it because I was living in a dark tent.”—Susan B.

Ceausescu’s fantasies created a reality for the Romanian people.  Have you ever had your reality shaped by someone else’s fantasies?

“Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, religion, wall street panic.”—Susan B.

What else would you like to say about the play?

“It was very well done. The costumes were authentic.”—Jon R

“I love ART.”—Susan B.

“Poorly researched, and patchy dramatically, it did not cover the central issues. I hope Obama’s new regime is better informed!”—John H

Online Hubbub: The Communist Dracula Pageant, Monday, November 3, 2008

November 3, 2008

What did this play make you think about?

“The way people in a position of power can manipulate public opinion.”—Barry P.

“Historiography.  The film, ‘12:08 East of Bucharest.’”—Bearlover

Where were you when the Iron Curtain fell?  When the Berlin Wall came down?  What are your memories?

“Living in Boston. I had crossed between West and East Berlin in the late ’60s, so have vivid memories of the nasty separation it formed and the no-man’s land in between.”—Barry P.

“I was three. I was in Ithaca, watching TV. I remember realizing that it was a big deal, but nothing else.”—Bearlover

Ceausescu’s fantasies created a reality for the Romanian people.  Have you ever had your reality shaped by someone else’s fantasies?

“No, but from my travels, I have seen individual opinions and fantasies shaped by others in China and some African countries.”—Barry P.

“Yes, as a mother.”—betsey a.

What else would you like to say about the play?

“Loved it, especially (as always) the acting of Thomas Derrah and Karen MacDonald.”—Barry P.

“Enjoyed the actors.  Found the play boring, which may be the point:  boring people brought about disaster and never “grew”.  For passion and another, more understandable evil, Dracula had to fill the role.”—betsey a.

“I loved the bear!”—Bearlover

“They kept it upbeat and relatively entertaining especially given the subject matter.  The style of the play means you can’t rely on any of it as real history, so you don’t come away feeling informed.  I would not recommend this play to others.”—JudyE

Online Hubbub: The Communist Dracula Pageant, Thursday, October 30, 2008

October 30, 2008

What did this play make you think about?

“Of course, the play brought to mind the incredible suffering inflicted on the Romanian people by Ceausescu, but I thought that the reflection of him on the Vlad/Dracula character enhanced the poignancy of this, while also revealing an historical precedent for brutally ignoring the plight of one’s own people.”—Bruce D.

“Ionesco and the theater of the absurd.”—anonymous

“Dracula, Ceausescu, madness, deception, dictators, absurdity.”—Roy D.

Where were you when the Iron Curtain fell?  When the Berlin Wall came down?  What are your memories?

“In New York in the insanity that was the magazine industry. It all seemed surreal to be doing something so completely vapid in light of genocide and such monumental milestones for humanity.”—anonymous

“I was here at Harvard when the Berlin Wall came down, and right away I received a fax from a long-time friend in Germany with a newspaper (actually, the tabloid Bildzietung) front page on the event: Die Mauer ist weg! Berlin ist wiedetr Berlin! (The Wall is Gone! Berlin is once again Berlin!).  In 1972, he and I had a picnic in Lower Saxony, in view of the border fence separating East and West.  Like most, I never imagined that barrier coming down so soon, or even in my lifetime.  Now it’s 19 years ago.”—Bruce D.

“I remember Christmas of 1989 seeing the photographs of the corpses on the front page of the newspaper.”—Roy D.

Ceausescu’s fantasies created a reality for the Romanian people.  Have you ever had your reality shaped by someone else’s fantasies?

“No, and I hope I never do.  I took a course back in school taught by Noam Chomsky on propaganda, politics and the news–I’ve never understood how people can allow themselves, like the Germans in WWII to be manipulated by any individual’s vision of a parallel universe utopia; or to accept what they know not to be true.”—anonymous

“Certainly.  For example, academic leaders with a certain “vision”.”—Bruce D.

“Hell yeah. I’m an American in 2008. Take a look around at everyone else’s fantasy.”—Roy D.

What else would you like to say about the play?

“I liked the pageantry and socialist realism aspects displayed on the stage.  There really were things like that.”—Bruce D.

“I went with my friend who grew up under Ceausescu, and actually knew some of the players depicted. She said it was funny, sad, and pretty accurate.”—Roy D.

“I thought it was great, but unfinished. One of the weaker of the more recent ART performances, in some ways-but definitely thought-provoking, interesting, funny, and full of potential.”—anonymous

Online Hubbub: Let Me Down Easy, Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October 14, 2008

Which character was your favorite and why?

“I didn’t see them as ‘characters’ at all – they were impressions or recountings of the expressions of real people, and weren’t part of a fictional context as are characters in a play. Calling them ‘characters’ is incorrect, and offensive, in so far as it denies the reality of her interviewees’ experiences.”—KP

“Rev Gomes, pretty true to real life!”—MBB

“Peter Gomes (of course unfairly since I work at HDS… : )”—D.Marie

“Jessye Norman–because of her dignity, intelligence and erudite vocabulary.”—Judy N.

“The Director of the orphanage was my favorite character; at least she is the one who moved me the most – she is the one whose heart I share.  As someone who has cared for and lost children who were not mine, I know that pain as my own.  Anna reached in to this woman’s heart and mind and pulled out enormous moments of Grace – and shared them generously with us.”—Marcia C.

“I liked the reverend Peter Gomes and wondered how he felt about the portrayal. I also liked the Buddhist monk for the irony and humor and also Elaine Scarry. In fact, her character was superb!”—Carol S.

“Not any one, some of my favorites were Gov. Richards because of her humor and Trudy Howell because of her compassion.”—Diane L.

“The one I had the emotional reaction to was the woman who told of the slaying of her family.”—Nell M

“The characters from Rwanda were incredible–so moving, so powerful, so touching.  I also liked Ann Richards, and the Rabbi from LA.”—Liz A

“I appreciated all of them. Peter Gomes was my advisor at Harvard Divinity School so I got a particular kick out of ADS’s spot-on embodiment.”—Leaf

“Elaine Scarry and Dr Pizzo; Scarry because I am a gardner and Dr Pizzo because I thought what he said was so right.”—Peggy L.

“Dean of the Stanford Medical School.  Having had two cancer surgeries three months apart at the Stanford Medical Center in 2006, I have a special place in my heart for the people there.  The medical staff there tries hard to make a “graceful” connection to its patients. And everything he said was so right about what is wrong with our medical system. I hope Obama taps people like him to help solve the crisis.”—Lisakat

Who else would you suggest that Anna interview in her ongoing exploration of grace?

“A foster child who has been through the system, experienced the good and the bad.  And the foster mom who loves and loses time and again.  The biological mom who loves enough to let go.  I would love Anna to explore the Child Welfare Program in this country.”—Marcia C.

“Desmond Tutu.”—MBB

“Children.”—D. Marie

“Pete Seeger.”—Judy N.

“Freud, Einstein, Maya Angelou, Louise Bourgeoise.”—Carol S.

“Paraplegics who have, nonetheless, been productive and still love life.”—Nell M

“Mothers.”—Liz A

“One or more of the exonerate people who served time on death row. How some of those folks served years in prison unjustly and have managed to return to life on outside with grace and not rage would be instructive to hear about. Also, my friend Kathleen DeSilva, in Houston, Texas who has lived with C-1/2 spinal cord injury longer than anyone else, who is the most gracious and grace-filled person I know. She broke her neck at 16 (gymnastics), managed to graduate with her high school class, graduate law school and serve as counsel for many years at the Texas Institute for Rehabilitation. Paralyzed from the neck down, Kathleen manages to be a light-filled being and I suspect she would consent to an interview.”—Leaf

“Local farmers around the world producing sustainable safe food despite all the odds against them.”—Lisakat

Have you experienced grace in your life?  How?

“When you flight from another country just to see a play and a great artist, you breathe grace. You inhale and exhale grace. Even if your seating tickets have been changed, you still find grace in the effect of how things happened. Whether you try to talk to the artist in the streets and you are rejected by her excuses, you still feel grace for the respect and the accomplishment of at least seeing her and crossing “one” word with her. Then, you also can see that POWER reveals itself somehow no matter the circumstances.  When you hear through the play -a great communication media and by a great communicator- that everywhere everyone is going through the same problems and conditions, all of the sudden you understand grace is everywhere all the time. What I still don’t understand is the exclusivity and the repetition of mistreatment. For some of us that have no family, for whatever the reasons, making a decision to whether feel pain or not, it is learned. There is so much knowledge spread around about why we suffer. Where is the knowledge and results about how bringing down that insecurity-power (wall of fear) behavior benefits all of us? We can see some of that in the play too, between the lines. Thanks to the artist for giving us her time and efforts, to reach us even though we are not in the United States and, to open our eyes to better alternatives no matter the culture, race, and hopefully age. Maybe someday someone will start caring again for those older than 50 years old. As things are promoted now, everything is for the youngest. That power and exclusivity affects many many environments. Something people forgot was that it was not until early 90’s that handicap ramps were integrated in the sidewalks. We have to keep the elderly active and creatively working.”—Margie M.

“Whenever I am with my 7 year old autistic grandson, who is filled with joy!  Though he cannot speak, I feel his communications with me are fueled by grace.”—MBB

“Yes.  Often without understanding it until I grew into my life’s experiences.  Reflection is a good thing.”—D. Marie

“Too many times to count, but the most moving was being with both my father (in 1986) and my mother (in 2006) at the moments when they died, at peace with themselves and their life’s ending.”—Judy N.

“Every time I step out of my familiar well worn shoes, and make myself open and vulnerable to those who are different from me, I allow the possibility of Grace to come in.”—Marcia C.

“I experience grace every time I am able to stop myself from going on automatic and be present to what is in the moment. That is a time of grace!”—Carol S.

“I find grace nearly every day that I’m truly paying attention from the little moments when someone holds open the door at a store to reading a sentence in a book that is so beautiful I have to stop and read it again and again. But I am lucky to have these moments because I have a home and a job, a wonderful partner, an engaging son, three cats and a dog. And they all bestow a kind of grace in my life everyday.”—Diane L.

“So many ways…most recently, I was contacted out of the blue by someone who made it possible for an old recording of mine with nine songs I wrote in the fifties to be produced, something I never thought would happen.”—Nell M

“I keep thinking of the expression ‘grace under fire’ or ‘grace under pressure’.  I think that by maintaining one’s humanity and positive outlook in the face of extraordinary circumstances can be considered grace.  I think that my experience of separating from my abusive husband and eventually getting a divorce while I had a very small child, and raising that child, and getting through that period a whole person while my child was relatively unscathed can be considered grace.”—Liz A

“Many times, mostly in the form of a second chance. Perhaps one of the most important forms of grace in addition to second or third chances, has been (remains) the understanding lessons come in all guises, often loss, and the teachers can be the most unlikely beings (not necessarily human).”—Leaf

“Through my patient care, there are moments when I feel that I am being my best self and I am able to BE there for the patient in the right way for them.  I also feel grace when I am in “nature”…. bird watching or hiking or just seeing the starry sky. I feel blessed then.”—Peggy L.

“Many times…throughout the time of my surgeries and my recovery.  Unexpected kindnesses from people that most assuredly helped in my healing. My life is changed as a result and it sounds crazy, but I am blessed that I went through this.”—Lisakat

Other comments?

“Despite Ms. Smith’s talent as a performer, I didn’t take very much from the show. What is the actual, emotional, experiential purpose of simply recounting the real stories of real people? There was no interpretation on Ms. Smith’s part, no artistic processing, if you will, save the order in which the interview segments were presented. Ultimately, the emotions, the stories were just copies of the real thing, and that created a palpable distance from their true source. Though, yes, it is nice to have access to the stories, I would have better felt and understood their intensity, I think, if I had seen the interviewees deliver those thoughts and experiences from their own heart, in a documentary or a lecture, or if Ms. Smith had injected into the play more of her own unique perceptive and creative energy, transforming the interviewees’ experiences into something new entirely.”—KP

“ADS is amazing!”—MBB

“It was a brilliant performance.”—D. Marie

“This play and so much of Anna’s work is chock full of Grace.  She is a teacher of Peace, allowing us to bear witness to moments and ideas we may never have been exposed to – allowing us to rub elbows with like and unlike beings, helping us to find our common humanity and better natures.  I know of no other person who can do what she does.  This is by far the best play I have ever seen.  Clearly God is working through Anna.”—Marcia C.

“Taking on all of those characters was a tour de force and Anna Deavere Smith chose well the phenomenal circumstances surrounding them. However, I did feel that the two parts held separate content, grace fitting the first half and not always the second.”—Carol S.

“This was an amazing show, truly amazing, one that continues to haunt.   I want to thank ART and Ms. Smith for brining this on.”—Diane L.

“The material was riveting but, even though I was fascinated by much of it, I was not emotionally engaged except in just a few places.  I also thought ADS could have used her hair more creatively and worn shoes for characters who would not have been barefoot in reality.”—Nell M

“I think that defining the word grace is a fascinating and thought-provoking exercise.”—Liz A

“Experiencing Anna Deavere Smith’s embodiment of grace (and disgrace) is an extended moment of grace. Applauding felt trivial. I did not experience “Let Me Down Easy” as performance, but worship.”—Leaf

“An astonishing, moving, and unforgettable performance.  Anna is a force of nature and a unique artist.  Bravo!”—David C.

“I felt myself truly weighted down by the experiences of the characters. Though many of them had experienced grace, the circumstances permitting them to do so were sooooo difficult, it was the pain of those circumstances and the evil or simple bad fortune behind the circumstances that seemed to stay with me.”—Diane E.

“I think Anna D Smith is brilliant and I am so grateful for her Buddha soul.  I am grateful to have been able to see her again and that I am alive in her lifetime.”—Peggy L.

“Tremendous show.  I went twice.  Where does she go next with this?  My friends in NYC want to see it.”—Andy

“I thought the connection between violence and grace was thin; it gave Anna a chance to make a   play out of violence.  I didn’t like it at all–I stayed until intermission so as not to be rude by leaving half way through the first act.”—Steve

Online Hubbub: Let Me Down Easy, Friday, October 10, 2008

October 10, 2008

Which character was your favorite and why?

“To me that is like asking “which of your children is your favorite.” They all moved me deeply. The Rwandans, the monk, dialysis mother, gardener, writer.  All the characters are going through my head and heart today.”—juliad

“The Hutus / Tutsis episode was very moving.”—Pat S

“The story of Ingrid Inema touched me the most.”—Mishy

“Ingrid Inema, Peter Gomes, Trudy Howell, it was very difficult to choose only one.”—Marge T.

Who else would you suggest that Anna interview in her ongoing exploration of grace?

“Perhaps a US prisoner who is a no BS-er about grace.”—juliad

“I was very surprised that, having spent time in Rwanda, Anna didn’t bring into the play the extraordinary experience of the Gacaca Courts.  I can think of few examples of grace that are more powerful and poignant than that of Rwandan villagers electing from their peers “seven people of integrity” to judge those accused of genocide.  During a Gacaca Trial, the villagers assemble, the prisoners are brought in, people ask questions of the prisoners, and if the people and judges feel the prisoner has fully confessed, he is freed.  If he shows no remorse or capacity for atonement, he returns to prison.  This form of justice was invented by the survivors of the Rwandan genocide who have nowhere else in the world to go with their brokenness.  In other words, they must work things out among themselves or face doom.  This kind of grace, which shows us the way toward reconciliation and forgiveness, is critical to humanity’s future.  If the theme of the play is grace, it would be strengthened if it included testimony about these grassroots trials and other forms of community reconciliation.”—Mishy

“Jonathan Kozol.”—Marge T.

Have you experienced grace in your life?  How?

“Yes.  Through my two kids, working w/women who are battered, doing AIDS work in prison where I first saw the face of suffering as Christ, as an actress in relationship with truths of connection on stage, now as an Episcopal priest in pastoral care at a Boston hospital.”—juliad

“When I left my last position at a university, the Dean said I fulfilled my responsibilities with grace and generosity.  Grace was not a quality that I was that conscious of and didn’t know I possessed.  I began to pay attention to people I came in contact with and try to recognize it in others.”—Marge T.

Other comments?

“The work was brilliant and words do not suffice. To give us an intimate connection w/so many people was powerful and heartbreaking – yes, let the cracks let in the light of grace.”—juliad

“Smith is a great performer.  However, this material was still too fragmented, and the piece too long for a solo piece.  It still needs to be pared down more.  I also felt that Smith lost sight of her pursuit of “grace” relatively early on, and then we went on this wild journey that seemed very random.”—not me

“Anna Deavere Smith is great!”—Pat S

“I give a deep bow to Anna Deavere Smith, who I think is a national treasure.  There were stunning moments in ‘Let Me Down Easy’ and others that I found to be a distraction.  I think the play would benefit greatly from more focus and the dropping of several of the characters during the first half.”—Mishy

“It was a wonderful performance by a very talented,  caring and involved person.”—Marge T.

Online Hubbub: Let Me Down Easy, Wednesday, October 8, 2008

October 8, 2008

Which character was your favorite and why?

“I found the juxtaposition of the two female victims of Rwandan genocide extremely compelling. The first woman’s visceral understanding of the word “forgiveness” contrasted poignantly with the second woman, who seemed to have intellectualized her trauma. She said that she was “learning to think,” and it was interesting that both women seemed to believe that thinking was incompatible with cruelty; this belief seemed to be the source of both women’s sense of forgiveness. I found their insights into grace profound, and I continue to think over that particular of the performance as I explore grace in my own life.”—Lily L.

“All of the characters played an important role and I think that each builds on the other. The one that impressed me was the doctor in New Orleans who learned that as much as we (physicians) may want to deny inequality in health care exists, the reality is that it does, despite our efforts as physicians to think or do otherwise. I have and continue to work with underserved populations to make a difference, however I realize that minority and underserved people in this country are not getting equal care. As an individual I give them top of the line care, but wish this were true for all physicians. I struggle with how we can increase awareness and cultural sensitivity on a more global level.”—Dr. B

“Doctor at Charity Hospital – she communicated so clearly about the have and have nots that many people in this country simply don’t seem to be able to comprehend – each of us could just of easily have been born a “have not”.    Ann Richards for her brash pride, lack of fear and ability to keep a sense of humor.”—Meg C

“Ingrid and Ann and Liz because Anna almost got lost in them and not the other way around, and because they are such compelling life forces.”—Lori

“Ingrid Inema.  Her remarks about stoning (it takes time) were haunting.”—Lottie S.

“Rev Gomes – he was portrayed just as he is, funny, frank and poetic.  I also liked the Tibetan Monk and the NYC Imam. I guess I liked the clergy.”—Reema

“I loved the choreographer towards the end.  I think as dancer and performer I could relate to her very easily and also could relate to A.D.S’s relationship to her.  Animated but not caricatured. Very truthful!”—Michael W.

“The physician in the New Orleans Charity Hospital was wonderful and the fact that this piece was a bit longer was appreciated. In general, I was most moved by the healthcare section and would like it expanded.”—Suzie CK

“Each character was set off by the radiance of each other character, so it’s hard to say.  I was moved by the “funeral” led by Peter Gomes near the end.  Ann Richards’s tremendous life energy was much appreciated among the somberness of the surrounding characters’ stories.  And I particularly appreciated “seeing” Susan Youens, as I am a singer who has read several of her books but had never seen or met her.”—Barbara M., Bellevue, Washington

“The Governor of Texas.  Because Anna seemed most alive in the portrayal–I knew so much about this woman, so many layers.”—JS

“I liked the minister from Harvard; what he had to say about the Business school students wanting to be nice, but felt that they couldn’t.  Also, his last speech about death (‘bring flowers’) was beautiful.”—Genevieve M

“Perhaps Ann, the former governor of Texas… its hard to say because I loved them all. She was one that I could really identify with ~ I felt like I knew her.”—Cindy H.

Who else would you suggest that Anna interview in her ongoing exploration of grace?

“Bill T Jones, Oprah Winfrey, Anne LaMott, Elie Wiesel, Seamus Heaney, Mary Oliver, Dorthea Tanning, Tina Packer.”—Lori

“What about Maya Angelou or Obama.”—Dr. B.

“Hilary Clinton, HH the Dali Lama.”—Lottie S.

“Interviewing victims of major events is powerful, but it would be interesting to include everyday people from around the globe who invite grace into their mundane day-to-day lives.”—Reema

“Parents.”—Michael W.

“A prisoner… a child…”—Cindy H.

“I formerly served as a Mormon missionary, and while I was on my mission the issue of grace came up frequently; Mormons have a very different understanding of “grace” than mainstream Christians. We understand grace to be a source of divine strength that enables us to do good works, without which we cannot lay authentic claim on the title of “disciple of Christ.” Grace was a topic of intense study during that period on my life, but I have not yet heard a talk by one of our church leaders only about “grace.” Perhaps such talks have been given, but if Anna could get an interview with the prophet–and current president of our church–I would be most interested. His name is Thomas S. Monson, and I believe his insights–or any insights from the current twelve apostles who serve with Monson–would be a valuable addition to this play. Traditionally, Mormons tend to be marginalized by mainstream Christians, and I would enjoy seeing this particular theological perspective represented somewhere in the play.”—Lily L.

“Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin , Ruth Ginsberg, a Catholic priest like Walter Cuenin”—Meg C

“Perhaps interview a health care worker who visits the elderly — an untrained health worker who is NOT a nurse, who receives low pay, yet who give so much of herself.”—Suzie CK

“The overall play lacked a sense of the liminal…it was very of the earth, when the topic really isn’t.  I’d recommend she interview everyday people and also some “out there” mystics of various denominations…wiccans, Jewish Kabbalists, etc.”—JS

“My friend suggested convicts from American prisons.”—Genevieve M

Have you experienced grace in your life?  How?

“I have experienced grace…it is a constant thread that grows, at times, into a river or current that shapes everything I do.  I am an atrocity survivor, so I know the kind of darkness Anna describes in Rwanda…the way grace can occur so suddenly in the middle of horror, a door opening, a glimpse, of light.  I think it exists next to us, a secret country, but we can make ourselves available to the opening of the door, we can become more like that place, we can intuit where to find it…because while grace lives outside of us, a force, it also lives inside.  It is our refusal to go down into the dark, our refusal to give up on Light…and out of that search, that determination, we stumble into stillness, where we just know…and that is grace.”—JS

“I’ve come close to understanding grace while reading the works of Flannery O’Connor. I felt and saw grace one frigid February morning standing at the commuter rail station scowling, frozen and feeling sorry for myself. Down the platform from me was an adult man with Downs syndrome standing on a patch of ice. He looked at me, smiled and started mimicking a figure skater moving elegantly across the ice.”—Lottie S.

“My friend Kirk wrote a song for my daughter and sang it at my baby shower. It starts with “Child we come to celebrate you. Do you want the good news or the bad news first? The good news is the earth made you. The bad news is you are made of earth.”  And we all started to cry.  And he ended the song with “The good news is the earth made you. And the other good news is we’re all made of earth. Child, we are all made of earth”.  Kirk possesses a wild sort of courage and unwavering commitment to truth telling. The wonderful horrifying beauty of his words overwhelmed me, and the shared experience of listening and crying was a profound moment of grace for me. For me, grace is intimately connected to witnessing and being seen.”—Lori

“I often see it in my young toddler’s response to his world.  Also, everyday acts of kindness or connection with people I meet/see at work, on the T, at the store, in the street…”—Reema

“I search for grace… long for it, but rarely find it. I lack grace, physically, emotionally, spiritually… perhaps even intellectually. But I wish to cultivate it within myself, if that is possible. I try, and that is all I can say.”—Cindy H.

“I experience grace every day. Grace is what allows me the luxury of hope and faith, and it allows me moments of charity. I feel grace whenever I am able to quell feelings of accusation and anger, and grace is what allows me power to be my best self. Recently, I have felt grace powering me through my masters program and student-teaching. During times when I doubt my capacity to serve the students I work with in a way that meaningfully empowers them, I experience moments of grace that keep my hopes to teach alive.”—Lily L.

“In coming to understand, and believing in myself as we are all ultimately alone, and we better get used to it and like it.  My grandmother who never judged, my middle daughter named Grace who is calm, clear, and sets a great example of peace for me.”—Meg C

“The closest thing I have come to the feeling of receiving grace is when New England has a very warm day in mid-December.  It is a feeling of being blessed when one has no right to expect it.”—Barbara M., Bellevue, Washington

“My definition of grace is energy that comes from God to give you strength to carry on.  I recently saw a friend of mine go through a horrific divorce, and I think she had protective energy around her at the end, because things worked out for her.”—Genevieve M

Other comments?

“Found the show very depressing, as the brutality of humankind and the human condition is inescapable.  Feel better today after reflection on the possibilities of overcoming evil.  Maybe the concept of original sin isn’t so barbaric.  The more I live the more I realize how it’s a struggle against the human condition and the selfishness of that condition.  When we gain compassion and empathy, it is truly amazing to behold.”—Meg C

“Have followed Anna’s work from the early days. Had no idea how captivating she could be.  This was very profound.  The progression of characters was excellent.  She is truly an American treasure!!!”—Genevieve M

“In the second half, I mostly lost the grace theme. The characters were well done, but the thread of grace didn’t work for me.”—Mark A.

“An extraordinary production.  Theater at its best.”—Andy

“Five of us came together and as a group, we were tremendously moved. The length of the evening flew by and is no problem. The Rwanda section was simply stunning. But mostly it is the quiet grace that Anna creates on stage that makes it. Also, we want to say that the stage crew and the way they help Anna also totally works. It creates a quiet caesura in the action that allows one to breath, and it flows perfectly with the entire piece. Well thought out.  Anna is a wonder. A genius who helps us see what we must and should. I am so grateful for this evening. Thank you thank you thank you.”—Suzie CK

“Thank-you for another outstanding play! While student teaching this past summer, my mentor, two other student teachers and myself taught our students, “Twilight: 1992 in Los Angeles.” Your play engaged students more than any other piece of literature our students read that semester. Thank you for your outstanding work and inspiring performance.”—Lily L.

“This was an amazing experience!”—Cindy H.

“Anna, you let me get lost in your thoughts and my own at once.  Thanks for that :)”—Michael W.

“Though I found the interviews of victims/witnesses of major tragic events powerful, I didn’t always get the connection to grace.  Sometimes they felt more gratuitous.”—Reema

“I found Anna’s production to be enormously moving and full of grace.  I know that, because her grace spoke directly to my inner most spirit awakening such hopefulness and feeling of possibility. I am so thankful to have been there.”—Susan D.

“Thanks to ADS for transporting me so many places.”—Lottie S.

“Loved the show and thought ADS was brilliant and simply a genius on may levels. I would love to meet her someday.”—Dr. B

“I am excited to see this again as it melds and shape shifts and what stories will converge when.     Thank you so much for your work. And for continuing to make work.”—Lori

Online Hubbub: Let Me Down Easy, Friday, October 3, 2008

October 3, 2008

Which character was your favorite and why?

“The doctor in the hospital in New Orleans, because I have had my own denial about the varying levels and degrees of personal and institutional racism in our country – her insights hit home for me.”—Sherrad B.

“I thought the characters dealing with the Rwandan genocide were most powerful, especially those whose grace was built around forgiveness and reconciliation. Rwanda is a miracle of forgiveness and grace.”—Edward M.

Who else would you suggest that Anna interview in her ongoing exploration of grace?

“Survivors.”—Sherrad B.

“Eugene McCarthy for believing that poetry and humanity can exist in the soul of a president; Barbara Jordan for knowing that truth will always transcend power; Eugene Debbs for everything.”—Edward M.

Have you experienced grace in your life?  How?

“Everyday the Grace of the Creator touches me in some way and I am full of gratitude.”—Sherrad B.

“In studying the films of the Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky with Professor Ray Carney at BU some years ago, I discovered through the arc of his film several principals that are the children of grace: humility, remembrance, sacrifice, place, redemption and the absence of noise.”—Edward M.

Other Comments

“THANK YOU!!!!”—Sherrad B.

“I thought Anna’s performance was remarkable on many levels, but mostly in the way she was able to use language to give elegance to even the weariness of human misfortune and agony.”—Edward M.

Online Hubbub: Let Me Down Easy, Tuesday, September 30, 2008

September 30, 2008

Which character was your favorite and why?

“The woman from South Africa working in the orphanage. I lost my mom when i was a baby and the compassion she expressed and exemplified gave me a lot to think about. I also loved the Dr. Gomes last piece in Mt. Auburn. My family has had a lot of loss in the last 6 years and we have learned to grieve and then try to celebrate the loved ones.”—Nora H.

“Probably, the woman from the South African orphanage. She evinced the most eloquent humility (which, I suppose, might be a “definition” of “grace” in itself.).”—Rich L.

“Ann Richards: energy, humor, recognizability.”—Ephraim D

“The last one because it remind me that we should live life in life…”—anonymous

“The orphanage worker at the end of the play. She possesses optimism and embodies grace.”—Pamela M.

“Rev. Gomes – his observations on the dying and death. Caring and comfort for both the dying and those who live on.”—Blake A

“The director of the orphanage in Johannesburg. Her ability to just be with the children. Also Anne Richards and her “chi” – I interpreted this as how to set boundaries around our vulnerable selves and choose how and whom to relate to.”—Paula F

“Peter Gomes because I have seen him speak and his character was played to perfection—not only his mannerisms but his intellect.”—Bill H

“All of them because they all spoke to my heart, I enjoyed greatly the Buddhist monk because he reminded me so much of my personal experience with Buddhism.”—Carlos N

“Ann Richards because we knew her and loved her and ADS brought her to life. Any of the Rwandan women whose pain was so vivid that one still hurts in their memory.”—David and Judy S

“Ann Richards because she was the most recognizable to a broader audience… (The Harvard crowd appreciated all the Gomes material but I wonder how that all would play in Cleveland or Tacoma.) Ann Richards was a smart, funny, honest woman respectfully re-enacted by Ms. Deavere Smith. The second act moved much more smoothly than the first. The juxtaposition of comic moments followed by intense, serious reflections worked well…as did the use of shorter interview segments. I was also struck by the character that ended the first act…so powerful.”–PFrontera

“My favorite was the caregiver in the New Orleans “charity” hospital who would not leave her people – and maintained their dignity and value by being one of them. There were many touching characters – I would love to see the whole piece again.”—Elisabeth T.

Who else would you suggest that Anna interview in her ongoing exploration of grace?

“Someone concerned about the environment–a botanist or biologist.”—Vermillion Flycatcher

“I would suggest she interview the teachers of very young children who are underpaid but so highly effective and necessary in this world. The woman who taught my now college age son in K1 is still a woman we mention in our ‘grace before dinner’. Mrs. Maguire saved him from sadness and hurt after a time of bullying that had altered his personality.”—Nora H.

“I suppose politicians might be interesting (though it might be best to talk to ex-candidates, or wait until after the election…) Philosophers and poets (of course.).”—Rich L.

“The Pope, a prisoner, a child, a hooker, an addict.”—anonymous

“I’d love to hear about the soldiers coming back from war who have lost body parts and are making a transition to a new life. Grace must play a role.”—Pamela M.

“Those groups (medical, foundations, volunteers) trying to build health care facilities around the world. They need to understand grace.”—Blake A

“Caretakers of parents.”—Paula F

“Something should be added regarding the grace of birth. Perhaps this was covered in the interview in the garden, but the grace of new life both human and animal.”—Bill H

“Women who are pregnant, and nursing. That is an intense experience of the body, and of grace.”—R

“Sarah Palin…. just kidding. Pema Chodron.”—Carlos N.

“George Bush and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld.”—David and Judy S

“How about the Amish families from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania that forgave the man that shot up their school house and then reached out to his family? Also, if you have not already interviewed her yet, immediately get to Ellen Stewart, founder of La Mama etc. in New York. Mama, as she is affectionately known, is a powerhouse woman of color who has been a source of grace for many. Seriously, learn about her and get to her…she will change your life!”—Pfrontera

“The disenfranchised are a wonderful source of stories of grace; they are more connected to real issues – or perhaps they are more honest!”—Elisabeth T.

Have you experienced grace in your life? How?

“I have experienced grace through learning about nature and sharing that learning experience with others, either those who teach me or those who simply share the experience.”—Vermillion Flycatcher

“I have been extremely lucky and have encountered it in rare and wonderful places as well as in the everyday mundane living of one’s life. I met a woman on the Island of Iona who literally stopped in the middle of the road to ask her God to bless me and take the sadness away. I had buried four people in six months and was weighed down by grief. She was a pilgrim from New Zealand and in our chance encounter in the Abbey we learned why each of us was there. She was a minister with a street ministry in NZ and felt very comfortable simply talking to God and asking him to help me cope with loss and sadness. I left the island with a sense of wonder and yes, grace.”—Nora H.

“I suppose I’d have to define the term first (though perhaps it’s essentially always being “defined” in the flux of everyday experience.) I imagine grace manifests itself in small acts of kindness, which do stand out in memory; unexpected generosities and sharings, of which I’ve been fortunate enough to have been the “donor” and recipient, as are most people.”—Rich L.

“Swimming in amniotic fluid.”—Dennis F.

“Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about a theme that was in the background of many of the pieces: the relationship between the word “grace” and the word “gratitude” or “gracias”–that the feeling of gratitude and thankfulness (which is not always possible) is in itself a force of grace. The Calvinists were not crazy when they talked about grace as something that comes from God and cannot be earned–it fits our experience that some people are able to look at this too-short and too-hard life and feel happiness. Happiness is grace–it might be that simple. And the Calvinists may be wrong that we can’t prepare ourselves to accept grace–maybe forgiveness, love, understanding, and the willingness to see the good and/or the suffering of other people are prerequisites of grace. Happiness, as Ann Richards says, is largely a state of mind. Happiness, the monk says, is intrinsically tied in with expanding circles of being so that we connect ourselves to other people.”—M.H.

“I am a very radical person and I love someone or I just don’t like it at all. Many times it is very difficult for me to let it go when people “break my heart”. Thank God I have a few special friends that help me to see the bright side of me instead of my shadow.”—anonymous

“I’m still working on the definition of grace, but I believe I have received blessings in life. Through acts of kindness by others and the grace of something larger than myself, I learn daily lessons of gratitude and the need to give back.”—Pamela M.

“A young nurse named Susan who cared for me when I was very ill with cancer – I don’t know what happened to her. Her grace, as she helped me, is something I will never forget. I will always hold her close to my heart for the grace she exhibited.”—Blake A

“Yes – through caring for my father for the last 6 years of his life. Grace was to me the opportunity to release my anger towards him and see him as a full human being, not just as a parent. It was different from forgiveness as there was nothing to forgive, just allowing other perspectives into my emotional life with him.”—Paula F

“Today I experienced grace because I came to the play with my parents who are from Flint, Michigan. They are voting for John McCain. My mother loves Sarah Palin. I am voting for Barack Obama. Sometimes I find it difficult to share things I love with them because we have very different values. I wanted to bring them to the play because I wanted them to experience Anna Deavere Smith, who is one of my favorite performers, but I was also afraid they wouldn’t like it; maybe too intellectual, too left-leaning. Well, they loved it. We were all very moved. So, grace for me is this power of art to bring us together.”—Dakota Cole

“Grace is a second chance, available to many who have suffered a misfortune. The film “Babette’s Feast” makes this point dramatically, not in the form of a lecture.”—George F

“Most recently, my wife, her sister and her husband and I spend the last week of my mother-in-law’s life at her bedside. An 85-year-old woman who was not ready to die quite then, once she knew that her passing was inevitable she made a shift that amazed us all. While I could spend a long time detailing what mom was like during those final hours, what really matters here is the GRACE she exhibited as she was preparing for her last breath. For myself (us all) her passing embodied one of the powerful manifestations of “grace-in-action”. It was her mindfulness of not just her passing but her compassion for all of us surrounding her, all the way to her youngest great grandchild.”—Carlos N

“We all have. The trick is to recognize it. It doesn’t happen just once. And it isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience. (See any story by Flannery O’Connor).”—David and Judy S

“Many times. My sense of the grace I have received has happened to me when I have had to deal with a difficult situation in my own life –initiating divorce, dealing with cancer—and I have felt safe, cared for, and okay!”—Elisabeth T.

Other comments?

“This was one of the most profoundly moving pieces of theatre I have ever seen. As a theatre professional I see theatre and take my students to a lot of it. We were all so incredibly moved that it was difficult to leave the theatre and rejoin the outside world.”—Nora H.

“I am grateful to Ms. Smith for engaging with this question, not one to which I’d given much thought.”—Rich L.

“The piece felt sprawling to me, the through line was hazy at best.”—Ephraim D

“I think Act I is a complete entity, and I was very moved by the end of Act II (partly because I’m a parent), but I think there is some kind of disconnect between the Acts. She is a brilliant performer – brilliant – and excellent interviewer, collage artist…but a little more dramaturgy is needed to make the whole thing coalesce.”—R. Lawson

“I wish the monk’s comments about extending compassion to other people had been tied in more obviously to Power’s comments about contracting circles leading to genocide.”—M.H.

“I liked the play but wished for more connections between the emphasis on the body and the theme of grace. The play struck me as a bit fragmentary. I am not speaking about a desire for linear development, but a bit more tightening of the overall structure. Great acting, of course.”—Pamela M.

“Grace is compassion, poise and understanding that go far beyond the rational or instinctual response to events.”—Blake A

“Thank you, Anna, for this ongoing work.”—Paula F

“Anna, you have a phenomenal talent and energy. Thank you for sharing your power & emotion with us. It must be draining. I loved the methodology: interview, choice of narrative, and bringing the character to life. Fabulous. It seems to me that you are still trying to find the meaning of grace… I will enjoy seeing where you are further along the journey.”—Diane D.

“It was OK, but 2 1/2 hours is too long and she didn’t make it clear what point she was making. No one that I know would want to listen to me for 2 1/2 hours talking about what is wrong with the world. I would not consider this “drama,” which makes a point through suggestion and metaphor — it was a documentary of the author’s experience. Not why I go to ART.”—George F

“What a tour-de-force!”—Carlos N

“ADS has such talent and energy and empathy, and her intentions are so good, that it seems ungracious (sic) to criticize the performance. But the focus is a bit blurred, and after suffering with the victims of Rwanda, the lecture from the Dean of the Medical School about the lousy American health care system seems a bit of an anti-climax. And the script needs an editor; not all the theologians have anything to say that I would pay theater ticket prices to listen to.”—David and Judy S

“Let Me Down Easy was wonderful! Anna Deveare Smith has remarkable talent. Her presentation moved well, NEVER dragged and she “created” wonderful characters. I found her stories touching and real, but not sappy. Thanks for another great theater experience.”—Elisabeth T.