Anna Deavere Smith in conversation with Studs Terkel

A videorecording of a live event featuring Studs Terkel and Anna Deavere Smith in conversation at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago. It originally aired on Chicago Municipal Television, Channel 49.

0:00Copy video clip URL Open on the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium stage, waiting for the event to begin. A voiceover gives introductory information on the event.

4:51Copy video clip URL Leah Vaselopulos of the Chicago Public Library introduces the guests.

6:58Copy video clip URL Terkel and Smith begin their conversation by discussing theater and the intersections between Terkel’s and Smith’s vocations.

11:39Copy video clip URL Smith performs as Studs Terkel on the subject of what he thinks could be called “a defining moment in American history.” In typical fashion, this leads to a discussion of many different subjects. “There ain’t no defining moment to me. It’s an accretion of moments! They all add up to where we are now.”

17:11Copy video clip URL Smith returns to her seat and Terkel expresses delight at her representation of him. “I have just seen myself in the mirror!… I maintain that she did not mimic me, but she caught something in me of which I was not aware… Right now I can’t get over this.” He describes her work as “theater and life fused” and they go on to discuss the relationship between acting and truth, which leads to a discussion of acting in politics, an appropriate topic as immediately following the event will be a televised Bush / Gore debate.

24:07Copy video clip URL Smith discusses her experience as an acting student learning to perform Shakespeare and how it led her to understand how words can conjure real things and lead to deeper truth. The topic returns to Terkel and Smith’s hopelessness about politics and its focus on surface.

29:57Copy video clip URL Smith recounts one woman’s description of President Clinton as an “untrained shaman” and talks about the power of his charisma and mythology.

31:21Copy video clip URL Terkel begins a story about what one can learn from interviews on tape recorders based on the silences and vocal inflections. Smith responds with a story of one of her interviewees, Maggie Williams, First Lady Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, saying that “Often times, African American people are assuming when they speak that there is something that is more powerful than the word to bring you to understand what they’re saying.” Smith performs as Williams, instructing her audience to listen closely to Williams’ tones.

39:16Copy video clip URL Terkel asks Smith to describe the process of creating her performances and using her voice to get at the truth of people’s words. Smith says that she spends a lot of time memorizing the pauses because, “Those silences are the place where that person is not telling me, but I can feel it… That’s who people are, is those unfinished sentences.” This transition to a discussion of the rhythm in the preaching at black churches. Smith points out that President Clinton’s manner of speaking is exactly the same as these black preachers, performing as Bill discussing Hillary’s treatment during the Whitewater scandal.

45:25Copy video clip URL Terkel invites Smith to do one more performance before concluding with a second performance as Terkel. The two outline a little bit about Smith’s upbringing and background, and then she performs as Ken Burns discussing Thomas Jefferson. He gave a surprisingly passionate condemnation of slavery.

50:14Copy video clip URL Smith performs as Terkel, describing him as “a spiritual mentor and twin to me.” This performance reenacts Terkel’s reaction to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. “FDR, my favorite president, was said to have had an affair with a socialite. And I said, ‘My god! The man has polio! This could be very good therapy!” They hug and leave the stage.

57:51Copy video clip URL Camera stays on the slowly emptying room as a voiceover sums up the event and the credits roll.

1:00:05Copy video clip URL End of tape.



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