Journalist-turned-playwright Phelim McAleer’s new play “Ferguson” uses grand jury testimonies from the Michael Brown shooting case to present the polarizing court proceedings. A piece of what McAleer calls "verbatim theater," "Ferguson" is a word-for-word read of excerpts from grand jury testimony.
“Ferguson” raised almost $100,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo and has been controversial from the beginning.
Citing an agenda on McAleer’s part and other conflicts, nine of the 13 actors who were first set to perform in the play have dropped out. What's more, the Odyssey Theatre, where the play is running through April 29, has gone to the unusual length of distancing itself from the production.
The Frame host John Horn sat down with “Ferguson” playwright Phelim McAleer.
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."
“Ferguson” opened at the Odyssey Theatre (2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, 90025) on Sunday, April 26 and will run through Wednesday, April 29.