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WAAPA Students Bring Crown Heights Race Riots to The Stage In ‘Fires in The Mirror’

Bringing the reality of the 1991 Crown Heights race riots in Brooklyn, New York to the stage, WAAPA students are set to perform this month.

Bringing the raw reality of the 1991 Crown Heights race riots in Brooklyn, New York to the stage, the Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) is set to begin Fires in The Mirror this month at Studio Underground at the State Theatre Centre in Perth.

Beginning on Thursday, September 8th, and running through Wednesday, September 14th, the 3rd Year Acting students of WAAPA will focus on American playwright Anna Deavere Smith‘s Fires in The Mirror, which depicts the horrors behind the Crown Heights race riots and divulge the truth to each side of the story with an emphasis on multiple viewpoints.

With over 30 years having passed since the Crown Heights race riot, Smith’s play circles around the initial incident that sparked on August 19th, 1991 and lasted for three days leaving two dead, and 190 injured.

Beginning with the setting of a tense environment in the racially polarised neighbourhood, the riot began with the tragic death of a seven-year-old African American boy, Gavin Cato, being killed instantly, when one of the vehicles in the three-car-motorcade of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, ran a red light.

Following the death of the young boy, over 250 of the neighbourhood residents surrounding the incident took to the streets calling for justice, and then for retaliation with reports of someone shouting, “let’s go to Kingston Avenue [a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood] and get a Jew.”

Bringing it closer to our Australian shores, a group of around 20 African Americans sought out a University of Melbourne student, Yankel Rosenbaum, who was conducting research in the United States and began to stab and beat him brutally, which later caused him to die.

From there, the racial tensions grew and three days of rioting ensued with Jewish people becoming injured, stores and homes being looted, and property damage reported, in addition to 152 police officers suffering injury as well as 38 civilians.

With the riots filled with hearsay and multiple differentiating eye-witnesses, playwright Smith took to the streets of those affected by the riots and interviewed witnesses and victims, comprising their words into a play of 29 monologues.

With seasoned director Charles Allen [Lecturer at Queensland University of Technology and former Head of Acting at the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts in Brisbane] at the helm for the WAAPA production of Fires in The Mirror, he is keen to show this moment in history in a new light, where all angles of the story can be heard.

For over three decades, it’s remained a pivotal part of US history, though many here in Australia – even with the local connection – have found themselves unaware of what happened all those years ago in New York City. Now, that’s all set to change thanks to this immersive, powerful production.

Visceral, raw, and ultimately, moving and educational, Fires in The Mirror looks to tell the true story, while also serving as a moment of reflection and even growth for those lucky enough to be in attendance.

Performances from the 3rd Year Acting students of WAAPA’s production of Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in The Mirror is set to begin next week on Thursday, September 8th and will run until Wednesday, September 14th at Studio Underground at the State Theatre Centre in Perth, Western Australia.

With this being the last chance to see the 2022 Acting students in their full fledged glory before they step into the world as graduates, seeing Fires in The Mirror is a must-do for the month of September. Tickets are on sale now through the Arts Culture Trust of Western Australia between $30-37 per person.

WAAPA production of
Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in The Mirror

Thursday, September 8th – Wednesday, September 14th
Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre, Perth, WA
Tickets: Arts Culture Trust of Western Australia