Future of COPA show “Parade” met with uncertainty

Students engage in passionate debate

Written By Jordyn Hronec, Editor-Elect

A decision as to whether or not “Parade” will go forward with production has still not been made after the second of two discussions Friday, according to Dean of the Conservatory of Performing Arts (COPA) Steven Breese.

Breese said students could expect a decision to be made within the coming weeks, after he has a chance to meet with Rob Ashford, the director of “Parade,” as well as President Hennigan.

The meetings were held in order to fulfill an item on the list of short-term demands sent to administration by the COPA Theater Club. The first meeting was on Thursday evening at 5:30 p.m. in studio one of the George Rowland White (GRW) Dance Complex in Lawrence Hall. The second meeting was on Friday at 2:45 p.m. in the GRW Theater in the University Center. According to Breese, two meetings were held so that students with classes on Thursday evening could have another opportunity to attend.

The musical “Parade” is another selection in the 2019-2020 Pittsburgh Playhouse season, set to be performed in March. It tells the true story of the lynching of Jewish factory owner Leo Frank after he is wrongfully convicted of rape and murder. It is set to be directed by Ashford, a Point Park alumnus whose final Broadway performance was in “Parade.” 

Students in attendance at the meetings expressed their discontent with both the content of the show as well as their lack of faith in both the conservatory and the university’s ability to properly ensure the well-being of students participating in the production. Some students were not convinced that the process of putting on “Parade” would be different than that of “Adding Machine,” which failed to adhere to its initial “Action Plan for Traumatic Content,” described by the director of “Adding Machine,” Tlaloc Rivas, leaving many students feeling traumatized. 

Students explained during the meeting that “Parade” includes imagery such as Confederate flags, KKK hoods and a lynching.

Breese explained that the conservatory had already reached out to several local leaders of color for their input and assistance in putting on the production. 

He named Quintin Bullock, the president of the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC,) as well as Doris Carson Williams, the chief executive officer of the African American Chamber of Commerce in Western PA. He also mentioned reaching out to the rabbi of the Tree of Life Synagogue. He promised that proper care would be taken should “Parade” go on.

Students were also concerned that this year would not be the correct time to put on the production, due to concerns of injustices faced by minorities both within the university and the city of Pittsburgh. 

“I personally do not have a problem with the show itself,” Nia Bourne, a junior musical theater major, said at the first meeting. “And I believe a lot of other students share those same feelings. I think ‘Parade’ is a fantastic show, and there is a time and place to showcase material like that. Nevertheless, many students feel that Point Park should not be doing the show.”

Bourne cited events such as the Tree of Life shooting, the death of Antwon Rose, and the recent murder of a black trans woman Downtown as wounds the community in in the midst of healing.

At Friday’s meeting, students were unable to come to a consensus on whether or not they wanted to move forward with the production. 

Some students, including Will Burke, a senior musical theater major who was cast as the lead, “Mr. Zero” in “Adding Machine,” were in favor of the production going on, but only as long as the necessary changes were made to ensure the well-being of the students. 

Burke specifically cited his experience being cast in last season’s production of “Cabaret,” which also explores themes of anti-Semitism. According to Burke, the show was directed by a Jewish woman and the process of putting on the show involved hefty discussions regarding the show’s content and how the students involved could go about performing it comfortably. Burke stated that material such as “Parade” had been done successfully by the conservatory in the past.

“I know that it’s so hard to trust, and you don’t have to,” Burke said. “It’s going to be that that it’s ‘when we see it, we’ll believe it.’ But we have to take that step, take that leap of faith that it can be done, because there are those of us who have done it here.”

Although a decision has not been reached regarding the future of “Parade,” Friday’s meeting did conclude with the beginnings of a plan moving forward, should “Parade” go on. Breese ended the meeting by answering sophomore musical theater major Aaron Banos’ question, stating that students who did not wish to be involved in “Parade,” should it go on, would be allowed to refrain from doing so with no repercussions, and that the COPA student handbook would be updated to reflect this. 

During Friday’s meeting, there was talk amongst the students of an “upperclassmen versus underclassmen” debate happening, as upperclassmen assured students that controversial material has been produced by the conservatory successfully in the past. However, underclassmen, many of whom’s first experience included that of ‘Adding Machine’ were skeptical.

“We [seniors] are coming from a place of care and we are trying,” Burke said. “It’s just our experience, trying to pass our advice, and it may not be right. Because we had a different experience, we had a different artistic director, we had a different Playhouse for two years. We had a completely different experience than you all had and you all will have, and that’s the beautiful thing.”

Burke also defended the students’ need for “intelligent debate,” stating that without it, the students would be “dead in the water.”