You've seen her in Nurse Jackie and Rachel Getting Married, but Anna Deavere Smith isn't just an actor. Her one-woman plays are a form of theater unto themselves, brilliantly conjuring the voices of real people. Speaking of voices, we asked Smith what happens when you turn up the volume:
August, circa 2000, not far from Monte Carlo, at a rehearsal for a concert. The stage—outside in the bright sun and naked except for masses of tangled wires—was on the French-Italian border. Literally straddling the border. Workmen were setting up for a soloist who would sing that night. I was sitting in the bleachers, enthralled. Suddenly a fast-moving train loudly zoomed through on its way from France to Italy. I put down my espresso. Would that train be going through during the concert? Whose idea was it to put a singer in the middle of a train route, anyway?
That night, when the great soprano Jessye Norman stepped onstage, exhilaration was followed by one engulfing human hush. Just at a peak moment, I heard that train approaching. Jessye Norman's voice shut it down.
We don't all have the ability to sing out over a racing train, but we do have the power to speak up—and out. A voice can get a party started, shout down opponents, or lead a country. Vocal cords are like any other part of your body. They are there to be worked.