Yellow background with black words saying Black Lives Matter

In a recent column in The Columbus Dispatch, Robert Cooperman talked about the challenges he and other conservatives face in the liberal-dominated theater scene. It’s a natural topic for the Ohio University-Lancaster professor, whose troupe, Stage Right Theatrics, hosted Columbus’s second annual Conservative Theatre Festival in January.

At the end of the piece, the Dispatch announced the troupe’s upcoming production of "Ferguson: Truth Matters," Phelim McAleer’s controversial play about the 2014 shooting of unarmed black man Michael Brown by police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. The work was described as a “right-wing view” of the fatal incident.

“That’s kind of unfortunate,” Cooperman said of the description, noting that the play’s dialogue was taken verbatim from testimony at grand jury hearings held to determine whether the shooting was justified. “It’s really not a right-wing version.”

This is not the first time McAleer’s play has been accused of bias. Several cast members questioned the playwright’s motivations and walked out prior to a 2015 staged reading in Los Angeles. “The truth is the truth,” McAleer told the LA Times in response to the walkout. “If it doesn’t fit in with their beliefs, they need to change their beliefs.”

But when it comes to the Ferguson shooting, there’s little agreement about just what constitutes the truth. During the hearings, the grand jury heard conflicting testimony regarding Wilson’s claim that he shot Brown in self-defense. Ultimately, the officer was not indicted, but the case sparked riots and became a major focus of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In light of the controversy surrounding both the shooting and McAleer’s play, Cooperman said Stage Right Theatrics held private auditions for its upcoming production and stressed to actors that they weren’t required to agree with the play’s point of view.

The troupe also hopes to hold an audience discussion following each performance, Cooperman said, “because the only way we’re going to be able to confront these issues is to talk about them.”

Stage Right Theatrics will present "Ferguson: Truth Matters" at 7:30 p.m. July 13-14 and 1:30 p.m. July 15 at the Columbus Performing Arts Center, 549 Franklin Ave. Tickets are $10. For more information, visit conservativefestivaloh.com.

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