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National playwrights turn to Ferguson for inspiration this week

UMSL theater professor Jacqueline Thompson, second from left, with local actors Tiffany Knighton, Kenyatta Tatum and Reginald Pierre in a 2015 social-justice workshop
'Every 28 Hours' project
UMSL theater professor Jacqueline Thompson, second from left, with local actors Tiffany Knighton, Kenyatta Tatum and Reginald Pierre in a 2015 social-justice workshop

The city of Ferguson will be a muse for a gathering of playwrights from across the country. Two dozen theater artists will tour the area Wednesday to get ideas for 90 one-minute plays about police shootings of African Americans across the country.

The theater project is called “Every 28 Hours.” It references a widely quoted but also disputed statistic for how often a black person is killed by police in the United States.

The project is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a collaboration among New York’s One-Minute Play Festival, Oregon Shakespeare Festival and St. Louis theater artists, including UMSL theater professor Jacqueline Thompson. She said basing the project around the death of Michael Brown is a natural fit.

“Ferguson was the heartbeat of this movement,” Thompson said. “So I think it was fitting for people to want to come here and experience more of the essence of who we are and how we got here and how we are working every day to recover from what happened.”

'There's not a bow that you put on'

Thompson is organizing the tour of Ferguson, where Michael Brown was killed.

UMSL theater professor Jacqueline Thompson
Credit Provided by UMSL
UMSL theater professor Jacqueline Thompson

“I want them to experience it through their own lens. And I don’t want to taint it; I just want to give them all the facts,” Thompson said.

Wrestling their impressions into a short script will be a quick process. Playwrights will meet Wednesday night with community activists. Immediately afterward, they’ll begin writing and complete their scripts — about a page each — by noon Thursday. Rehearsals with local actors begin Thursday night.

Each of the 90 scripts is written by a different playwright, most of whom aren’t gathering in St. Louis this week, but sending their plays in from around the country. Dozens of local actors, theater companies and arts organizations are involved.

“[The Black Rep’s] Ron Himes is directing. Shakespeare Festival is helping secure space, and Metro Theater is letting us use their rehearsal space,” Thompson said, naming a few.

Thompson doesn’t expect the project to provide any neat answers.

“There’s not a bow that you put on the end of everything you know, it’s not like OK, and we do this and we have a ‘kumbaya’ moment,” she said.

Actors will perform staged readings of “Every 28 Hours” this Saturday at Ferguson’s Dellwood Community Center and at the Kranzberg Arts Center. There is no admission fee.

Every 28 Hours logo
Credit 'Every 28 Hours' project


‘Every 28 Hours’ Staged Readings

Where/When: 2 p.m., Dellwood Community Center, 10266 W Florissant Ave.,63136;  8 p.m. Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N Grand Blvd., 63103. Both Saturday, Oct. 24

How much: Free

Information: One-Minute Play Festival website

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.