A Kentucky playwright will finally get to see her play hit the stage when Market House Theatre’s production of “Riot: Ashbury Park” premieres this week.
“Riot: Asbury Park,” the story of how a group of Black and white individuals held a meeting and came together as race riots are happening in the city of Asbury Park, New Jersey in the early 1970s. The play is based on actual riots and meetings between groups of different races in the city.
Thursday’s performance serves as the world premiere of the play as it has never been produced on stage by another theatre company.
Director Michael Cochran said Market House Theatre chose to produce the script after Amanda Haan, the playwright, entered Market House Theatre’s New Play Competition, where Kentucky-based writers and writers from nearby states can enter scripts that have never been produced.
Cochran said the plot of the play involving race riots and people coming together to address race issues is especially relevant in today’s political climate.
“It’s a play about having two opposing sides come together and out of that confrontation, come out with solutions,” Cochran said.
Haan said she came across the idea for the play from a 1971 issue of Look Magazine. She said her mother frequently shops in antique stores, and likes to find old magazines that were published around the time Haan was born, and found a copy of Look Magazine from 1971. One of the features in the magazine was “A Cop Named Joe,” which looked at what happened at these meetings and discussions between a group of Black residents and a group of white residents from the perspective of a white police officer that attended the meeting.
Haan, 52, has not always been a scriptwriter. With a background in psychology, Haan has also worked as a producer and casting director in New York City. One constant in her life is writing: she has written poetry since she was a teenager, is a published children’s book author, and even tried her hand at writing a children’s film script.
“It’s just something I always wanted to do, so I did it,” Haan said.
She became invested in researching and writing for this play, spending more than six months in New Jersey in 2008 speaking with people who were at the riots. She has become good friends with the two remaining attendees of the original confrontation who are still alive today.
“I kind of just took a huge risk. I’m not a journalist, I don’t have an agent, I’m not part of the writer’s guild. I just wanted to work on this, and people trusted me,” Haan said.
The play, Haan said, is one that focuses on the human experience and the story of the people who facilitated the meeting.
Cochran said the play also helps with Market House Theatre’s multi-year initiative to produce plays that allow for diverse casting. “Riot: Asbury Park” features a cast made up of eight local actors, half of whom are white and half are Black.
“Riot: Asbury Park” is performing at Market House Theatre from Nov. 11-14 and Nov. 18-21. On Nov. 12, Haan and Holly VanLeuven, one of the original facilitators of the confrontations between Black and white residents, will be at Friday night’s performance, and Haan will be available for a talk-back session after the performance.