Living Newspaper plays presented factual information to their audiences using found text from newspapers, magazines, interviews, etc. As the director of the Federal Theatre Project, Hallie Flanagan began the encouraging the creation of Living Newspaper plays.
Links to some of the Living Newspaper Scripts can be found here: http://www.aladin0.wrlc.org/gsdl/cgi-bin/library?c=ftpp&a=d&cl=CL8.2
One of my favorites is “One Third of Nation” (http://dspace.wrlc.org/doc/bitstream/2041/60696/OneThirdNationdisplay.pdf).The title actually comes from Roosevelt’s Second Inaugural Address during which he says “I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” This play addresses the issues of overcrowded tenements and dangerous living conditions in New York in the late 1930s. Before the dialogue of the script appears, there are over 8 pages of bibliographic information citing newspapers, surveys, speeches, government documents.
The Living Newspaper and the Federal Theatre Project had a brief run in U.S., lasting only three years. The WPA suspended the project (because of suspicion from the House on UnAmerican Activity) days before the play “The Cradle Will Rock” was set to open. In order to avoid repercussions and restrictions from the government, composer Marc Blitzstein played his piano onstage while actors sang from their seats in the audience. The script for this play can be found here (https://cradlewillrock.wordpress.com/screenplay-original-blitztein-1936-version/)
Questions about Deaf culture
- Name, Age, Location, Education/Career
- Do you use American Sign Language (ASL)? Would you consider yourself fluent? Is it your primary mode of communication? How many years have you been signing?
- What is your involvement in the Deaf Community, if any?
- How long have you been involved in the Deaf Community? And in what capacities?
- How connected do you feel to the Deaf Community? Describe this connection and how it has changed/evolved.
- Do you consider yourself part of the “hearing world” or “deaf world”? Both or neither? Why?
Questions about personhood (story)
- Describe a typical day/week in your life.
- What are your favorite hobbies? Activities? Sports?
- Who is your role model and why?
- What are 3 words friends would use to describe you? What are 3 words your family would use to describe you? What are 3 words you would use to describe yourself?
- What something people underestimate about you? Why do you think that is the case?
- If you were to write an autobiography, what would you title it? Why?
Note: Questions that include identifying information will be changed to protect identity. Depending on the interviews involvement in the Deaf community, the second set of questions may be altered to reflect their opinions of the Deaf community. For example, “what something people underestimate about you?” may be rephrased to a Deaf education teacher to say “What something people underestimate about your students? Do you think it is true? How to you and your students respond to that judgment?”
The play by Anna Deavere Smith opens with this line from an interview with Ntozake Shange, a playwright, poet, and novelist. She says: “Identity is…it’s a way of knowing that no matter where I put myself, that I am not necessarily what’s around me. I am a part of my surroundings and I become separate from them, and it’s being able to make those differentiations clearly that gives us identity.” Fires in the Mirror is a compilation of monologues that are extracted from various interviews done by Smith. Smith’s project began as a reaction to the riots in Crown Heights in August 1991. These riots were in response to a motor vehicle accident, in which a car in the procession carrying the Lubavitcher Hasidic rebbe ran red light and swerved onto the sidewalk. The car struck and killed Gavin Cato, a seven-year-old Black boy from Guyana, and injured his cousin, Angela. Rumors about the police and medical responders only assisting the driver and passengers lead to tensions between the two groups. Later that evening, a group of young Black men fatally stabbed Yankel Rosenbaum. For three days, the violence and tensions continued between these groups in Crown Heights.
Smith’s project began with interviewing various people of the Black community and of the Jewish community. Some of the interviews are directly related to the events in Crown Heights in August 1991, while others centered on broader topics of race and religion. Then, Smith took each of the interviews verbatim and crafted them into several monologues. These monologues are told as individual stories, but together they produce a complete narrative of these distinct groups.
In her introduction, Smith discusses her experience of beginning this project. As a classical trained actor, she and her peers were taught “the spirit of acting is the travel from the self to the other.” But Smith wanted to flip this idea. Her technique would begin with other coming to the self, thus empowering the “other” to find the actor. She hoped that each interviewee would have their own experience of authorship by telling their stories and answering her questions. This idea of giving the voice to the characters directly is an important part of memoir and storytelling. Although Smith’s name appears as the playwright, the authorship and voice truly belongs to the interviewees.
When the play opened in New York in May 1992, Anna Deavere Smith performed every role. As the interviewer, she assumed the voice, the posture, the gait, and the personality of each of her interviewees. The audience had a mixed reaction. Some were pleased to see these diverse yet connected characters on stage. Others were uncomfortable and thought her portrayal stereotyped and stigmatized the cultures. Smith comments on this in her introduction to the text saying that this is the “uneasiness we have about seeing difference displayed.” Once again this expression of the “otherness of others” becomes prominent in my research. Society, generally, regards difference as bad and unwanted, but works like Fires in the Mirror open up audiences to view their neighbors and learn about the experience of the “other.”
Here’s a video of Anna Deavere Smith’s performance in Fires in the Mirror.