"Notes From the Field" is a one-woman show that involved so much research and so many interviews that it could also have been a documentary film.
The award-winning play by actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith was first staged in 2016. An adaptation of it debuts on HBO on Feb. 24.
In "Notes From the Field," Smith shares the first-person accounts of 18 teachers, students, politicians and parents — all with something to say about race, class and the school-to-prison pipeline in America.
“Notes from the Field” is based in part on more than 250 interviews that Smith conducted across the country over the past several years. As part of her performance, Smith imitates the vocal and physical mannerisms of the people she interviewed. When she spoke with The Frame host John Horn, she explained her approach:
"I'm just trying to make a living document of exactly how they told me what they told me. And I believe that the circumstances around a person begin to inform their vocal patterns and their physical behavior. Sure, I could do a documentary film where I just show them saying what they say, or I could write a report. But, because I'm an actor, I am sort of inevitably going to be interested in identity and I'm going to be interested in struggle. And the acting skills that I have give me the opportunity to embody that struggle.
And so I've been chasing that which is not me, finding people who are different than me, and trying to make these portraits of the country by embodying moments where things are not quite right. Because I believe when you give people a chance to talk about their surroundings, when things are upside down, you begin to see their real strength, their power.
"Notes From the Field" debuts Feb. 24 on HBO.