'Ferguson' Play is Stirring Up Controversy

Posted: Oct 16, 2017 2:25 PM
'Ferguson' Play is Stirring Up Controversy

The shooting and death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri resulted in riots, nationwide protests, and the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement. More than three years after the shooting, the trial of Officer Wilson is coming to the world of theater.

Writer Phelim McAleer's Ferguson recounts the story of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by using eye-witness testimonies presented to the Grand Jury. These testimonies would ultimately lead the Grand Jury to exonerate Officer Wilson.

McAleer's play was first presented two years ago in a workshop in Los Angeles, California. The workshop drew sharp criticism from those in the theater industry and even caused nine cast members to walk out. Theater critic Kevin O'Keefe from Mic went so far as to advocate for the play's workshop to be shut down as he claimed it was "dangerous." Though nine cast members walked out during the script reading, McAleer explains that it was not of his own doing. Those who walked out decided not to believe what the script, pulled directly from court testimony, was saying as it did not match up with what was being reported by the mainstream media.

Since then, McAleer has been trying to raise funds for his production. To help raise money, McAleer started a crowdfunding page and has seen more than $20,000 in support pour in.

McAleer stated:

When we did the workshop in 2015, we had a lot of people trying to shut us down, even though we use actual testimony, this is an anti-establishment play, which is why we are looking to crowdfunding to get this show-up and heard.

Even though the play faced controversy with cast member walkouts and faced opposition from critics in Los Angeles, the workshop received praise from LA Weekly, which said McAleer's play had "achieved something almost unheard of in L.A.’s stage community — it moved theater from the arts section to the front page." The LA Times even stated the play evoked an emotional response as was seen by the “straightened backs and swiveling heads of the audience.”

As a journalist and someone who grew up in Northern Ireland during "The Troubles," McAleer believes allowing the truth to come out during difficult times is important:

Growing up in Northern Ireland during troubled times taught me that the truth is very important - that no problems can be solved, no injustice righted, until we know the truth about contentious events or issues ... I have an opportunity to bring to the stage the truth about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri the morning police officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown dead. I have been a journalist for 25 years and this is one of my most important projects and, also one of the purist. I have deliberately excluded the "journalistic voice," from this project, there is no filter, no bias - just the voices of eyewitnesses. The truth is not necessarily what the public came to believe, it is full of shocks and surprises, but is unbelievably compelling. I hope the audience appreciates it and joins me on my journey to the truth.

Ferguson has now moved from the west coast to the east coast. Previews of the play will start October 19 and its official opening is October 23, at "Urban Stages" 30th Street Theater in Manhattan, New York. Performances will run through November 4.

Watch the video below to learn more about McAleer's Ferguson.