Project History and Background 

Anna Deavere Smith, dramatist and actress, has been credited with creating a new form of theater. She has, for four decades, used theatre and movies to reveal the effects of inequality and discord on American communities. With the belief that no individual or single affinity group can effectively author the story of our divided communities, Smith explores moments of crisis from multiple points of view. She then creates dramatic works in which she performs excerpts of interviews. Her works suggest that audience members could step beyond their personal worldviews to grasp a larger understanding of the problems that plague our society.

Launched in 2012, The Anna Deavere Smith Pipeline Project is a call to action. It draws attention to youth who, through poverty, are vulnerable to becoming embroiled in cycles of incarceration. When Smith was made aware of what has been branded “the school to prison pipeline,” she set out to conduct more than 250 interviews about race, inequality, and disciplinary practices across the U.S. to write a dramatic work, Notes From The Field. Notes was produced as an award-winning play. Its success also led to an HBO film and a Random House book.


Chapter 2: Girls 

“Chapter 2: Girls” will focus on young women (ages 14-20) of all races who live in poverty. Unlike Smith’s 15 previous projects, this project will render more than a work of art. Smith will expand her process to benefit communities even as she and her team conduct research. In each research locale, Smith will convene a 10-day to two-week performance workshop for girls. She will assemble a diverse faculty specializing in acting, writing, dance, music, visual arts, and new media. It is through these workshops that Smith will learn about girls’ lives—through their own expression and storytelling, through their own art. Smith is currently a tenured professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, having previously taught performance at Stanford and USC. She will bring her experience as an educator in developing a faculty and curriculum for this purpose.

Using her critically acclaimed, sui generis theater making process, Smith will simultaneously conduct a broad array of interviews in struggling communities and beyond. She will interview social scientists, activists, jurists, even exploiters, about how they assess what inhibits or fosters wellness and growth among adolescent girls. As with previous projects, following her research, Smith will create artistic content: a play, a film, a book, ancillary essays, and other media.

The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) is the fiscal sponsor for the project. All contributions to “The Anna Deavere Smith Pipeline Project” should be made to NYFA and will receive a tax deduction.