‘Red Summer’ premiere ends prematurely after fire alarm rings


Photo Credit: Governors State University Media Relations Department

Nuha Abdessalam, Phoenix Staff Writer

GSU’s Center for Performing Arts production of Red Summer leads to an unexpected ending with a twist.

The audience at GSU’s premiere of the play “Red Summer” on Friday, Sept. 16, were part of an unscripted conclusion — or non-conclusion — to the performance.

Playwrights Shepsu Aakhu, Shawn Wallace, and Andrew White created a dramatic work depicting the tragic history of Red Summer, the violent rioting that wracked Chicago in 1919. The musical invited audience members into the lives of two WWI soldiers returned from combat in Europe only to find violence and racial unrest at home.

The patrons at the premiere at the Center for Performing Arts, including this reporter, seemed to be an excited group, clutching their programs as they waited to enter the auditorium. The atmosphere was exciting and curious; one person was heard to whisper; “I never knew Red Summer was a thing.”

The play focuses on the economic, societal and racial struggles after WWI. The prevalent and established racial tensions are brought on stage, describing the violence experienced in the streets of Chicago. The music and lyrics throughout the production reflected the horror, the story, and the reality of what transpired. Pivotal scenes caused audience members not only to hear and see, but to feel the frightening facts of Chicago’s Red Summer.

One of the main protagonists, Donald Lee Winters (played by Nathaniel Andrew) and Marlene (played by C.C. Ross), a Black married couple, is arguing and pleading for survival, survival within their skin, town, and marriage. I was captivated by the actors’ performance, only to be jolted back into my seat in the auditorium when the performance was disrupted by blaring fire alarms.

Ushers opened the doors and led the audience from the auditorium, with many wondering if this were part of the performance. Looking back at the stage after a few seconds, the actors had gone into a puzzled freeze mode, making it clear this was not part of the show.

We were escorted outside and were met by the GSU Campus Police. We were then asked to go to our vehicles and that our evening show tickets would be honored for one of the remaining future showings offered.

No official explanation of what happened was provided. the Phoenix continues to try to find out.

A call to GSU’s Campus Police department at 12:53 p.m. on Sept. 17 elicited no explanation. Instead, the department directed inquiries to the CPA, which sent this reporter back to the GSU police.

After reaching the same officer a second time, the Phoenix asked if the incident had been reported and logged. After being placed on hold several times, the officer stated he could not share details with me. Asked if it was fair to assume he and the department did not want to cooperate with the Phoenix to inform community members who attended the show to know what happened, he said yes.

The Phoenix will continue to investigate why details of this incident are being kept secret, and the Phoenix has learned that there have been at least two more incidents of false fire alarms in recent days.