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Northumbria University academic's play remembers Oklahoma bombing 20 years on

Steve Gilroy interviewed survivors, family members of victims and first responsders during his research for The Oklahoma City Bombing Project

Steve Gilroy with the Oklahoma City University crew during an early read through of the play Northumbria University academic Steve Gilroy has written
Steve Gilroy with the Oklahoma City University crew during an early read through of the play Northumbria University academic Steve Gilroy has written

An award-winning playwright from Newcastle has written a new play to mark the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma Bombing.

The play, written by Northumbria University’s director of performing arts, Steve Gilroy, will be performed by Oklahoma City University (OCU) students this month as part of its anniversary project to remember the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

OCU commissioned Steve due to his expertise in verbatim theatre – a form of documentary for the stage based on personal interviews and transcripts.

The writing and development process saw him work with OCU students and staff to conduct more than 35 interviews with family members of victims, survivors, local officials and first responders.

“Often, during the verbatim process, interviewers have to work quite hard to coax stories from people,” says Steve. “For this project, however, there was an incredible honesty that I haven’t seen before in any other project that I have done.”

Steve’s previous works include the award-winning Motherland, which toured the UK in 2009 sharing the stories of women whose everyday lives were touched by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also wrote The Prize, in collaboration with senior lecturer, Richard Stockwell, sharing the true stories of Olympic successes and coinciding with London 2012.

The cast of the Oklahoma City Bombing Project
The cast of the Oklahoma City Bombing Project

He continues: “People talked openly about their experience of the bombing; however, they also shared all sorts of different stories that say a lot about peoples’ ability to recover.

“They find themselves 20 years later when they are no longer defined by what’s happened and are able to open new chapters in their lives.

“The overwhelming message that comes from everybody interviewed for this project is the regeneration of the city as the background, but I think in the end, it is going to be about these very powerful individual stories that, when woven together, are going to create a much bigger human story about recovery.”

OCU Associate Dean of Theatre, Brian Parsons, has a vision for the play beyond the April production and would like every high school in Oklahoma to have access to the play by creating an educational package that includes scripts, a documentary made by OCU about the making of the play and a teacher’s resource pack.

He says: “We have a unique opportunity and responsibility to respond through art. This work is a living memorial and celebration of the tenacity, recovery and healing process of Oklahoma City.”

The Oklahoma City Bombing Project, directed by OCU instructor Courtney DiBello, will be performed at OCU’s Burg Theatre between 16 and 19 April.

To find out more about studying Performing Arts at Northumbria visit www.northumbria.ac.uk/arts or sign up to the open days on June 26 and 27 by visiting www.northumbria.ac.uk/openday .

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