Journalist/Playwright, Phelim McAleer, created a play, or what he calls “verbatim theater,” depicting the reality of the Darin Wilson, Michael Brown grand jury hearings. He used the actual transcripts from the hearings as scripts, without spin, rewrites or embellishments. It’s an opportunity for everyone to see what really went on behind the scenes, as we all awaited the outcome of the famed investigation. Genius, right? It is if you want to portray truth. Not so much if you want to perpetuate false narrative.
McAlteer has a history of challenging controversial topics. He has made other similar plays addressing the stigmas against fracking and climate change. This time he chose Ferguson, but he’s had some trouble keeping actors who want to portray the true script/transcript. Nine of his 13 actors have walked off the job.
During rehearsals some actors balked after realizing the “Hands-Up-Don’t-Shoot” narrative was discredited by the FBI.
What does McAlteer say about these reactions by his cast?
As you say in the play, there were 25 days of testimony. But your play runs about two hours, so clearly there’s some subjective editing. As you’re looking through all of those transcripts, were there things that you felt had been underrepresented?
“I’m one of the few people who’s read all 5,000 pages, most of them several times. There is no credible witness, none, who said Michael Brown had his hands up saying ‘Don’t shoot.’ It’s just not there… They all crumbled under questioning or when presented with forensic evidence. And people need to know that.”
There was obviously a lot of drama about the staging of this play itself. That nine of the original 13 actors who were cast decided not to perform in the play. What were their objections, and how did you respond to their objections?
“Well there was [the idea] that this was somehow unbalanced. That I have conservative politics is another one. And then just, ‘I don’t want to be part of it, I’m getting too much pressure from my family and friends to a personal, political reasoning.’ I hope I’m not misrepresenting them, but I think there was a little bit of madness as well.”
The play focuses on excerpts of testimony and clearly you have a subjective view of which excerpts you’re going to show. How is that not a subjective interpretation of the event itself?
“Every article, every newspaper article you’ve ever read about Ferguson is a subjective editing of the Ferguson incident. And, you know, most newspaper articles are 600 words. Most radio pieces are three minutes, five minutes, seven minutes. So everything you’ve ever heard about Ferguson is edited. So this is the longest piece, I think, existing about Ferguson. So it’s the least edited, the least subjective, actually, about all of the pieces you’ll ever hear about Ferguson.”
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