Twilight as a “Living Newspaper”

Anna Deavere Smith writes what could be described as “documentary dramas” for which she does extensive research and interviews in order to present a living history. The idea of theater as a “living newspaper” was used extensively in this country by the Federal Theater Project as part of the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. FTP director Hallie Flanagan wrote that, “the [Living Newspaper] seeks to dramatize a new struggle — the search of the average American today for knowledge about [their] country and [their] world; to dramatize [their] struggle to turn the great natural and economic forces of our time toward a better life for more.” The aim was to dramatize current issues and concerns by presenting facts, anecdotes and newspaper stories, using realistic content but in a theatrical style which included quick scene and set changes; flexibility of stage space, using many levels, rolling and hand-carried scenery, and scrims to establish a multitude of locations without elaborate constructed sets; projection of settings, statistics, and film; sound effects and full musical scores; the use of a loudspeaker to narrate and comment on the action; and abrupt blackouts and harsh spotlights. If you think that this also sounds a lot like the work of Bertolt Brecht, you would not be wrong.
Recently, plays such as The Vagina Monologues, Zoot Suit, The Exonerated, and The Laramie Project have used these techniques to great acclaim. In many of these, as in Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, it is not the actual event that is dramatized but the consequences and responses to that event. Anna Deavere Smith’s work is unique in that one person performs multiple roles rather than a chorus of actors speaking the variety of voices. For Twilight, Smith conducted more than 300 interviews over several years. Here is a listing of the real people Andresia Moseley takes on — all in around one hour and forty-five minutes including the intermission:
“A Movie”
Keith Watson, Former Security Guard and Co-Assailant of Reginald Denny
“Safe and Sound in Beverly Hills”
Elaine Young, Real Estate Agent
“My Enemy”
Rudy Salas, Sr., Painter and Sculptor
“Here’s a Nobody”
Angela King, Rodney King’s Aunt
“Control Holds”
Sgt. Charles Duke, SWAT LAPD, Use of Force Expert for the Defense
Charles Lloyd, Attorney for Soon Ja Du
Gina Rae AKA Queen Malkah, Community Activist
Jay Woong Yahng, Liquor Store Owner
“Indelible Substance”
Josie Morales, Clerk Typist, City of LA, Witness to Rodney King Beating
“Your Heads in Shame”
Anonymous Man, Juror in Simi Valley Trial
Keith Watson, Former Security Guard and Co-Assailant of Reginald Denny
“Big and Dreadful Things”
Shelby Coffey III, Editor, LA Times
“Pep Boys”
Katie Miller, Book Keeper and Accountant
“And in My Heart for Him”
Mrs. June Park, Wife of Walter Park
Stanley K. Sheinbaum, Former President, LA Police Commission
“It’s Awful Hard to Break Away”
Daryl Gates, Former Chief of LAPD
Maxine Waters, Congresswoman, 35th District
Charlton Heston, Actor and Activist
“Caesar Salad/Absorb a Little Guilt”
Talent Agent, Anonymous Hollywood Agency
“The Beverly Hills Hotel”
Elaine Young, Real Estate Agent
Keith Watson, Former Security Guard and Co-Assailant of Reginald Denny
“To Look Like Little Girls from Little”
Elvira Evers, General Worker and Cashier, Canteen Corporation
Jessye Norman, Opera Singer
“A Weird Common Thread in Our Lives”
Reginald Denny, Semi-Truck Driver, Victim
“No Justice, No Peace/My Room”
Paul Parker, Chairperson, Free the LA Four Plus Defense Committee
Cornel West, Scholar
“Marching Orders”
Alice Waters, Chef, Chez Panisse Restaurant, Berkeley, CA
“AA Meeting”
Maria, Juror #7, Federal Trial
“Swallowing the Bitterness”
Mrs. Young-Soon Han, Former Liquor Store Owner
Twilight Bey, Organizer, Gang Truce



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