Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Commentary

The Curtains Open at the Election Booth

November 07, 2000|ANNA DEAVERE SMITH | Anna Deavere Smith, an actress and playwright, is the author of "Talk to Me" (Random House, 2000)

It does matter how we vote.

We have been told that the candidates have paid high sums in order to modify their performances, and that some of the consultants are versed in the study of acting. If the task for a candidate were how to get your message across to a distracted audience via an unsympathetic media, then it would be logical to go to the craft of acting as a resource. Not only do actors know how to illuminate meaning, we also learn how to do it against all odds. Dramas are, after all, conflicts.

Playwrights write in dense language, often trying to communicate in simple terms the complexities of the human condition. Our craft is to illuminate that language and to carry the news of the playwright, whether it's good news or bad news, to our audiences. Were the candidates, their speech writers, handlers and the pundits who spoke in their wake, really trying to illuminate anything? Or were they just putting on a show? Do we as a public want illumination? Or do we prefer to glance occasionally at these men, as if they were the same as any other leading man on the screen in this extraordinary global moment?

These men have not been acting. Acting is about creating simple fictions that house great and complicated truths. The truth is the good news and the bad news. Common sense would hold that no politician could bring bad news, because he or she would lose votes. When a true actor speaks, we slowly come to accept the bad news as part of the truth, because deep down, we feel we knew it all along. It's those performances that make us leap to our feet cheering, and sometimes weeping. An actor provides a moment of recognition, because he or she is merely a vehicle for "us." Those moments of recognition were few and far between in the drama of the last several months, and certainly hard to find in a campaign for the highest office in the land.

Shakespeare understood, and so do we, that "the play's the thing, wherein [we'll] catch the conscience of the King." As Hamlet says those words, he is planning to watch the play and the audience. This play is as much about us, the audience, as it is about the candidates. In this play, there is one opening of the curtains, and it happens at the election booth. The candidates aren't the only ones who have to act like it's life and death today. We do too.

Let's hope that the fiction we are all creating does not hold an ominous truth: that we've all been foolish to have been distracted by poses, when in fact, the candidates were delivering a message. The good news is there and so is the bad. We have watched the candidates. They are not all the same. They are not acting. This is real.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|