Following the School to Prison Pipeline with Anna Deavere Smith

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Photo: Kevin Fitzsimons

The energy in the audience nearly blew the top off the packed black box theater in downtown Berkeley on a recent Saturday. The draw?  MacArthur Award winning actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, who you might recognize from The West Wing or Nurse Jackie. On this night, however, the actress-turned-advocate tackled one of our country’s toughest topics: The school to prison pipeline.

Using her wit, humor, and talent, Deavere Smith managed to eloquently capture how America’s education system too often fails young people. In her one woman show, Field Notes: Doing Time in Education: The California Chapter,  Deavere Smith portrays the stories of children, parents, judges, teachers, and juvenile justice advocates.

The show was followed by a thoughtful discussion, one that Deavere Smith said was even more important than the performance itself. I had the chance to interview Deavere Smith about some of the controversial topics explored in her show, like abolishing the prison system, for example.

Check out an excerpt of our conversation below.

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