Actor. Spoken word artist. And now playwright.
Leslie Ezra Smith has come full circle creatively. He will be presenting book one of his one-man play “Book of Ezra,” which he wrote and is starring in, at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre from October 4 through the 25. The production was produced by Playwrights founder and producing artistic director Mark Clayton Southers and will open the theater’s 11th season.
In this open letter to his teenage son, Smith chronicles moments of angst that he experienced in his own life—between the ages of 9 to 13—growing up in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh.
“This show is based on moments I experienced in my own life,” explained Smith, 37. “The stories are colorful and I didn’t have to embellish anything. I made mistakes throughout my life. I went through peer pressure, girl problems and domestic violence took place in my home. From third to ninth grade I lived in a dysfunctional home and I didn’t realize it. I was very smart, but I had a lot on my mind.
“I want to use the ‘Book of Ezra’ to help my son deal with some of the things he is going through as a teenager and will go through as he gets older,” continued Smith. “I would like for my story to be a microcosm of what fathers can be, Instead of just talking to my son, I made a record for him so that he doesn’t have to look anywhere else. My dad didn’t stay in our house to fight. I want to stay and fight. I wanted to create a story my son can add to.”
The Westinghouse High School graduate and science lover got bitten by the performance bug when his music teacher gave him the chance to express himself in choir, which Smith said he thoroughly enjoyed. For the first time he felt like he didn’t have to leave the earth to find love and acceptance.
“She provided the first chance for me to express myself. She was the first artist that I knew. One of the biggest memories was of her teaching us to sing and she’d make faces and we’d crack up. She gave me another outlet,” he said.
His first foray into theater was with Arch Productions a troupe of artists who were on a mission to raise the consciousness of humanity. The touring company’s target audience was teenagers and the actors traveled regionally and nationally performing works at middle and high schools that dealt with such topics as suicide, violence and teen pregnancy.
In 2004, Smith became a part of the Kuntu Repertory Theater family and was cast in several of the company’s productions including his first play “Buffalo Soldiers” before meeting Southers and performing with both companies. He was also featured in New Horizon Theater’s “Pill Hill,” which Southers directed. Smith is also a staple in Pittsburgh Playwright’s Theatre Festival in Black and White.
“Performing is healing for me in many ways. It forces me to do things with purpose,” said Smith who is also a well-known spoken word artist and national slam poet. He has performed poetry in various places including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta and New York City. “It’s important to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. There’s no other high like it. To see something so chaotic come from unknown to known is beautiful.”
Smith said he and Southers worked on “The Book of Ezra” for two to three years tweaking it walking away from it and picking it up again before both men thought it ready for production.
“Ezra is a phenomenal actor and spoken word artist but he’s also a really good writer,” Southers said. “He didn’t come to me with a prepared script and ask me ‘can you produce my play?’ He came with these stories and the idea for a script and I knew we could make that into something great. There will probably be a part two of the ‘Book of Ezra.”
When Smith isn’t memorizing lines for a play, performing his poetry or spending time with his son, he works as a site coordinator for an after school program at Concord Elementary School K-5. He can be found hosting various artistic events throughout Pittsburgh including Eargasm every third Friday and Savoy Soul every first and third Wednesday.
“Arts literally saved me and knowing what it’s done for me, I want to give back,” Smith said. “I hope that one day we in Pittsburgh can appreciate the scene we have here. The accessibility to talent makes us take it for granted. I am truly grateful to Mark and everyone at Pittsburgh Playwrights.”
(Tickets to “Book of Ezra” can be purchased by visiting www.pghplaywrights.com or call (412) 678-4686.)
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