AKRON, Ohio — A local woman produced a play after something upsetting happened to a friend at a rally following George Floyd’s death. Francine Parr is artistic director of the Akron Civic Theatre’s Millennial Theatre Project, which she founded, designing it to be grounded in inclusivity, she said.
The message Parr said she wanted her play to relate to the community was simple — listen to one another.
Parr, who is biracial, became upset when police officers dressed in riot gear ignored her friend, a Black man, as he pleaded with them to talk to him during an Akron rally. The man told police he was a father with a daughter and a three-month-old son, and that he feared for his family’s safety.
“And nobody moved and not a single one came down to talk to him,” Parr said. “And he called out cops that he knew standing up there, by name, and none of them came down to just have a conversation.”
That night, Parr said she cried as she watched video of the rally and realized she was afraid.
“We’re not in the 1960s and we’re not getting hosed down,” she said. “But racism is now being shown in a new light with cell phones and the media, because it’s almost so immediate. And this is an immediate cry for help.”
The next day she went to the Akron Civic Theatre and told her dad, Executive Director Howard Parr, about her idea for a play. Parr liked the idea, she said, but told her it wasn’t enough — he suggested she go into the community and ask people to tell their stories.
To begin, the Civic Theatre team created and distributed an online survey, which had great response, Parr said, but the majority of respondents were white.
So the team reached out to the community on their personal social media pages to ask for input. It wasn’t long before people started hearing about the work and sending their friends to the group to relate their experiences, she said.
Co-writer Maya Nicholson was brought on and over the next year, the team visited Akron neighborhoods to ask residents to participate, Parr said. They visited several places people gather, from nursing homes to the University of Akron.
In all, more than 600 people weighed in and shared personal stories, Parr said.
The result is “Say it Loud Akron,” a free, original performance composed of more than 20 monologues illustrating community members’ lived experiences with systemic racism.
“Say it Loud Akron” will have four performances:
At the close of each performance, a town-hall style discussion will be held, Parr said, and all four performances will be live streamed on social media.
The Civic Theatre team also created and distributed memes on social media, with such messages as John Lennon’s quote, “If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set then there’d be peace.”
Another is an African proverb that reads, “The story of the hunt only favors the hunter, until the lion tells the truth!”
The main purpose of producing “Say it Loud Akron” was to get the conversation going, Parr said, a conversation she would like to see continue once the shows are over.
“We hear these stories that happened in other cities, but there are stories that happen very similar to those other cities right in our backyard,” Parr said. “There’s a way to change that and prevent that. And that’s simply by listening and opening your mind.”