In 2014, writers Michael Walker and Kristen Adele Calhoun met for the first time as grad students in New York City through a play-reading group. On that same day, a young man named Michael Brown was shot nearly 1,000 miles away in Ferguson, Missouri.
Brown’s death sparked protests nationwide and led to more conversations about police brutality in the country.
“It just felt like we needed to stop play reading and start play writing,” Walker said. He went on to create "Canfield Drive" with Calhoun, a play about two high-powered news reporters bringing two very different perspectives to their coverage of the unrest that followed the police shooting.
The Black Rep will premiere the production Wednesday and will run it through Jan. 27. Walker and Calhoun joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh on Tuesday to talk about the play and what it entails. Ron Himes, producing director of the Black Rep, also joined the conversation.
Calhoun, who is also part of the production’s cast, shared her perspective on the matter as a black person in America.
“It was a part of an accumulation of events that we had seen in the national narrative of unarmed black people being killed by law enforcement,” Calhoun said. “I had to figure out a way to channel my outrage and my pain and the suffering that it caused me every time one of these things [police shootings] occurred. I am a trained theater maker, so it made sense to channel that through creating a piece of theater.”
Himes added that, originally, the Black Rep did not intend to commission a play about Ferguson.
“My response at that time was, ‘We’re not looking at doing anything about [Ferguson] soon because we feel like the work we’re doing has always spoken to what precipitated that, and that we’re always speaking to it,’” Himes explained.
But after receiving a call about “Canfield Drive,” meeting the writers and understanding their approach to the story, Himes agreed to co-commission the play.
“[Ferguson] has been a flashpoint for artists who are activists to have an opportunity to speak out and address the issues,” he said. “They’re not really just speaking to that incident, but to the conditions and the circumstances that allowed that incident to happen and allow it to continue to happen in America.”
Calhoun explained that the play is about how two reporters with opposing points of view navigate covering the events in Ferguson and come to understand each other’s perspectives as well as the stories of the people in Ferguson.
“You start to see that the two of them are wanting to learn more about the other and wanting to understand each other and try to hear each other,” Walker added. “We don’t try to set out to offer any solutions; what we try to do is start a conversation, ask questions and get that ball rolling.”
“What we hope [for with] the work that we’re doing, is that conversation expands and leaves the theater,” Himes added.
Listen to the full discussion to hear more details about "Canfield Drive":
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