Anna Deavere Smith : biography
Anna Deavere Smith (born September 18, 1950) is an American actress, playwright, and professor. She is currently the artist in residence at the Center for American Progress. Smith is widely known for her roles as National Security Advisor Nancy McNally in The West Wing and as Hospital Administrator Gloria Akalitus in the Showtime series Nurse Jackie. She is a recipient of The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2013), one of the richest prizes in the American arts with a remuneration of $300,000.
Smith was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of Anna (née Young), an elementary school principal, and Deavere Young Smith, a coffee merchant.The New York Times, April 7, 2009 Smith is an alumna of the historic Western High School. She then attended Beaver College (now Arcadia University), graduating in 1971. She received her M.F.A. in Acting from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, California.
At the beginning of her career, Smith appeared in a wide range of stage productions, including the role of Mistress Quickly in an Off Broadway production of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor with the Riverside Shakespeare Company, produced by Joseph Papp and the New York Shakespeare Festival, set in New Orleans in post-Civil War America. For the role, Smith transformed herself into a "Cajun voodoo woman," an indication of the actress’ transformational power that would manifest itself in her future work.O’Haire, Patricia, "Wives of Windsor [sic] make merry in city parks", The New York Daily News, July 26, 1983. For a picture of Smith in the role of Mistress Quickly see Riverside Shakespeare Company.
Smith is best known for her "documentary theatre" style in plays such as Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles, FilmReference.com, accessed August 29, 2011both of which featured Smith as the sole performer of multiple and diverse characters and won her the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show two years in a row. Fires in the Mirror dealt with the 1991 Crown Heights Riot. Twilight: Los Angeles dealt with the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Both of these plays were constructed using material solely from interviews. House Arrest (2000) and Let Me Down Easy (2008) continued in this style.
Let Me Down Easy The New York Times series on January 13, 2012. She debuted her one-woman play, in Phoenix, Arizona, in November 2008. The piece, which explored "women’s relationships to justice and the law," was commissioned by Bruce Ferguson, director of Future Arts Research (F.A.R.), a new artist-driven research program at Arizona State University in Phoenix.Jones, Kenneth. Playbill.com, November 5, 2008
As of July 2009 Smith is the artist in residence with the Center for American Progress and is developing a new show called The Americans, which documents change in Washington, DC.Soellner, Anna. AmericanProgress.org, April 27, 2009
In Spring 2012, Smith was the first artist in residence at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, a program founded by the Very Rev Dr Jane Shaw, Dean of Grace Cathedral, who shared Smith’s vision of “bringing together art and religion”. Harmanci, Reyhan, , New York Times, Feb 10, 2012 Dusenbery, Lisa , The Rumpus, Dec 16, 2011 Krasny, Michael, , Forum with Michael Krasny, KQED, Feb 1, 2012 Commissioned by Grace Cathedral and the Cockayne Fund, Smith wrote and performed the play, On Grace, based on interviews relating to the meaning of God’s grace. gracecathedral.org, Dec 13, 2011 Arobateau, Red Jordan, Red Jordan Arobateau Blog Feb 23, 2012 The performances were accompanied by American cellist Joshua Roman. Franco, Jean
Film and television
Smith has appeared in several films, including Philadelphia, The American President, Rent, and Rachel Getting Married. She had recurring roles on The West Wing (National Security Advisor Dr. Nancy McNally) and The Practice. Smith appears as hospital administrator Mrs. Akalitus in the Showtime dark comedy series Nurse Jackie, which premiered in June 2009. Early in her television career, Ms. Smith appeared on the long running soap opera All My Children in the recurring role of "Hazel the shampoo girl" at the Glamorama, run by "Opal Gardner" played by Dorothy Lyman 1981-83.