The following week, I attended a matinee that included a mix of students and subscribers. Age, race, and class were mixed as well. The event was electrifying, terrifying, disheartening. Many black students laughed at the accents of the Asian characters, and most disturbing, laughed and cheered at a video of the Reginald Denny beating. The tension in the theater was palpable. "What was it like onstage in front of that audience?" I later asked Anna Deavere Smith. She replied with high energy and a focused intensity: "It concerns me. The students silenced the adults. I could feel the adult audience becoming smaller and smaller." Smith wondered whether to say something from the stage, but at the same time she didn't want to change the experience of the audience. "How do we invite and involve young people into our work? We must, but it's not easy." I told Smith that the older black women sitting next to me were furious at the misbehavior of the students. Where are their teachers? they asked. Smith's response was immediate: " 'Where are their teachers?' We are all their teachers. When I was a kid, everybody was my teacher. What's happened to that sense of community?" Given the disparate reactions of the audience to the beatings, is there any hope that we can find commonality? "Cornel West is in the piece to provide catharsis and laughter. He looks at the evidence and says things don't look so good. He doesn't say where hope is, but he says it exists. We have to go beyond the evidence to create new possibilities. I only hope that some people felt more than discouraged in response to Twilight; I hope they felt the need for action."
By Deborah Peifer