Award-winning writer and actor Anna Deavere Smith, who you may know as Nancy McNally on The West Wing and Gloria Akalitus on Nurse Jackie, has created Notes From The Field, a one-woman show that “dramatizes the accounts of students, parents, teachers and administrators affected by America’s school-to-prison pipeline.”

Based on interviews with hundreds of people, Anna plays 18 different characters, representing multiple points of view on the topic. “The play shines a light on the lack of opportunity and resources for young people living in poverty and often suffering with regard to their physical and mental health, and how these circumstances often lead them into the criminal justice system,” Anna explains on her website.

Notes From The Field was first introduced in 2016 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and immediately transferred to off-Broadway, opening at Second Stage Theater in New York, and this week, a version of the play premiered on HBO. For on demand, stream or showtimes click here.

Film Synopsis

If you change the conversation, you change the system.

Enlightening and empathetic, the film tackles questions of race and class through compelling first-person stories, drawing on the accounts of well-known figures like Rep. John Lewis, NAACP Legal Defense Fund president Sherrilyn Ifill, and activist Bree Newsome, as well as everyday people struggling in a broken system. Culled from hours of interviews conducted by Smith with more than 250 people across the country, Notes From the Field showcases her extraordinary gift for transforming herself into diverse characters as she recreates each person’s speech patterns, movements and emotions. Filmed in front of a live audience and intercut with haunting video footage and photographs, Notes From the Field features accompaniment by jazz bassist Marcus Shelby.

The full stage production of Notes From the Field serves as a centerpiece of Smith’s social-justice initiative, The Pipeline Project, which began in 2013 and seeks to extend the conversation of pressing issues beyond theater and into America’s communities.

Lead image screengrab via HBO/YouTube