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On the Fly: Anna Deavere Smith

Actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith on “absorbing America,” “Nurse Jackie,” and her latest production, Let Me Down Easy.


Photograph by Joan Marcus

Anna Deavere Smith doesn’t work like any other playwright out there. Her plays don’t begin when she sits behind a computer; they take shape as she conducts hundreds of interviews that she’ll later present on stage word for word. From Fires in the Mirror, which dealt with a race riot between neighboring African American and Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, which examined the racial unrest in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict, Smith doesn’t shy away from controversial subjects. For her latest offering, Let Me Down Easy, Smith conducted more than 300 interviews—from doctors to rodeo bull riders to cyclist Lance Armstrong—to analyze the health care system, from both the patients’ and providers’ perspectives. “On the Fly” producer Marc Breindel sat down with Smith to talk about her new show, currently on stage at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre near San Francisco.

Part One: “Absorbing America” through her playwriting process

Press here to play the MP3.

Part Two: Her relationship with her “Nurse Jackie” character

Press here to play the MP3.

Part Three: Having the courage to stir change

Press here to play the MP3.


Marc Breindel is a news reporter/producer who has worked in media from print newspapers to public radio to Web 2.0. Breindel began as a reporter and editor of The Berkeley Voice newspaper. He then produced NPR talk shows for KQED in San Francisco and KNPR in Las Vegas. Breindel has also produced bilingual Spanish radio news and talk shows for the NPR program “Latino USA” and public radio network Radio Bilingüe. Marc Breindel is currently a Senior Reporter/Producer for Blue Egg Media, an exciting new voice in cross-platform news media.

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