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UCSD Theatre Blog Interviews 

Department Chair Allan Havis interview with guest speaker Anna Deavere Smith for department blog

The Marshall Blog was created by current Department Chair Allan Havis with the support of Thurgood Marshall College on UCSD's campus when he was provost of the college from 2006-2016. With extraordinary interviews with many Pulitzer Award artists and journalists, it now features an interview by Havis with upcoming guest speaker Anna Deavere Smith.

AH. Your stellar on-stage performance career took an early skyrocket ride with your solo documentary pieces in the early 1990s: Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Can you imagine if you were trying to launch a career in 2019 in the age of Trump (and you were thirty years younger), attempting similar solo material for New York and Los Angeles, what would be the results?

ADS. It’s never possible to predict the result of an artistic project. It’s a collaboration and everyone effects the result. This is a very rich time for artists to work. Perhaps issues of identity which interested me then are still relevant. Let me also offer that my work started as a solo form, but I’m always conscious that groups of actors will be cast in productions. It does not always need to be solo show.

AH. Many social essayists, activists, and politicians have drawn striking contradictory conclusions about the Black Lives Matter movement. How do you view the movement and the sectional backlash to the movement?

ADS. I tried to get an interview with the founders of Black Lives Matter for my latest work Notes from the Field. Not having had that opportunity, I am hesitant to conclude anything. The movement certainly brought attention to concerns of the day - in particular, conflict between communities and police officers and the several tragic deaths that resulted.

AH. How did your MFA in Acting from A.C.T. prepare you for your long commitment in the performing arts?

ADS. It taught me discipline and introduced me to basic principles of acting and understanding dramatic texts.

AH. What was your reaction in 2012 when you were notified that you would receive the National Humanities Medal from President Obama? What was it like to go to the White House?

ADS. I thought it was a crank call. I had been to the White House several times when Clinton was president. I was happiest to take my niece, who was then still in high school.

AH. You had a marvelous continuing role (2000–2006) as Dr. Nancy McNally in Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing. Was it pure fun to carry that character over the years?

ADS. I’m not sure I’d say it was fun. The language of Nancy McNally was always a challenge, but it was a rich experience that I will always cherish. I admire Sorkin and all of the actors on the show. The series really touched the American people.

AH. Can you talk a little about your most current creative project?

ADS. Can’t talk about the new project cause it’s still being incubated.