Power Women - O, The Oprah Magazine's Power List
20 remarkable visionaries who are flexing their muscles in business and finance, politics and justice, science and the arts.
O, The Oprah Magazine | From the September 2009 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
Actor and playwright
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.