If you fall in love with a play, you might tell others about it.
Tucsonans Kate McMillan and her husband, Bill Krauss, fell in love with a play and they decided to produce it.
Last year, the retired couple — she an attorney, he a business executive — took a short vacation to Los Angeles and wandered into a small theater to see a production they had never heard of, “Dreamscape,” by Rickerby Hinds.
They walked out determined to bring it to the Old Pueblo — it is at the Rogue Theatre for two performances next Saturday, April 2.
What McMillan and Krauss have done is a first for the playwright.
“I can’t say I’ve ever had non-theater, regular folk say, ‘We have to make this happen,’” said Hinds, a theater professor at the University of California-Riverside.
“Kate and Bill were insistent that this was something that should happen.”
Still, Hinds did not expect to hear from them again.
But the couple was determined.
However, producing, they discovered, is much more complex than saying, “Hey, let’s put on a play.”
“We came back from LA and realized we didn’t know what we were doing,” McMillan recalled.
“If we had known what we were doing, we probably never would have done it.”
A HAIL OF BULLETS
“Dreamscape” is a two-person play based on an actual event — the death of 19-year-old Tyisha Miller, a black woman who was shot and killed by Riverside police on Dec. 28, 1998. It pulls from court transcripts and written reports about the event, as well as from Hinds’ creative mind.
It was about 1 a.m. when Miller had a flat tire. While a friend went for help, she locked the car doors, and then passed out. She had a gun in her lap.
Friends could not rouse her, so they called the police. They weren’t able to wake her either, so they broke a window. Miller sat upright and a policeman thought he heard a sound like a gunshot. The sound knocked him off his feet; he thought he had been shot. Four officers unleashed a hail of bullets.
The play incorporates beatboxing, hip-hop, poetry and dance as the lead character, Myeisha, remembers her life. The story is divided into sections, each defined by where one of the dozen bullets entered her body.
The play is not an indictment of police, Hinds said.
“Because of the issues,” said Hinds, “I wanted to find a way to give a balance so that the conversation would allow for more dialogue about the loss of a human life, versus cops are bad or blacks are good.”
It is that look at the tragedy that spoke to McMillan.
“It sees things in 360 degrees,” she said. “That’s the power of the piece to me.”
McMillan and Krauss were wandering around downtown LA when they ducked into the lobby of a building to escape the rain. It turned out to be a community theater where “Dreamscape” was playing.
“We looked at the playbill and Bill talked to the night guard about the play,” said McMillian.
They bought a ticket for the next performance. Once they got back to their hotel, they wondered why they had.
“We didn’t want to see it because we were drowning in Ferguson,” said McMillan, referring to the massive publicity covering the riots that followed the Ferguson, Missouri, police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, in 2014.
“And I wasn’t too excited about hip-hop. The play didn’t call to us, and we decided not to go. But we ended drifting back to the theater, and (the play) blew us away.”
After the performance, they spoke to Hinds.
“We asked if it ever went on the road and he said, ‘Yeah, sure,’” McMillan said.
They returned to Tucson determined to find a theater to host the production.
They had big plans for workshops, talkbacks and the sponsorship of the Tucson Police Department.
The first theater they approached, Borderlands, was in the midst of a leadership transition and couldn’t take on the project.
Next up, they went to Cynthia Meier and Joseph McGrath, founders of The Rogue Theatre.
“They were wonderful, but they said, ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you,’” recalled McMillan.
Before they left dejected, they left an audio recording of the play with McGrath and Meier.
“Two weeks later, The Rogue called and said they were signing up,” said McMillan.
“It’s so beautifully constructed,” said Meier in an email. “So simple and direct and human, all told in poetry, in rap. Joe and I were equally moved.”
Part of the play’s power, said Meier, is its ability to tell a story without assigning fault.
“It casts no blame, answers no questions,” said Meier. “It just puts the questions squarely and movingly in front of us to ponder and reflect on.”
But the Rogue was in the middle of its season. They would provide the theater and ticket sales, but McMillan and Krauss had to do all the legwork.
That included bringing the playwright and actors to Tucson, marketing, printing posters, talking it up, and trying to line up support — especially from the Tucson Police Department.
“The police were nervous as cats because they thought we were trying to set them up,” said McMillan.
That’s not at all what they thought, said TPD Lt. Jennifer Pegnato.
TPD was given a script, talked in detail with Krauss, and discussed it in the department. Then they decided they would become a supporting participant.
“It’s not to condemn anyone, it’s to invoke conversation,” said Pegnato about “Dreamscape.” “It’s a study of tragedy. We decided we were willing to sit at the table and be part of any sort of discussions that took place.”
As with all plays at The Rogue, talks will follow the production.
The play has been performed around the country as well as in Hungary, Turkey and Romania, said playwright Hinds. Discussions seem to flow naturally after it is seen.
“Theater has the potential for us to begin a conversation from a different place than a protest or a trial or confrontation,” he said. “It gives you a separate subject to talk about — you can talk about race in relationship to the play.”
As the performance day draws near, McMillan and Krauss are still running around taking care of last-minute details.
It’s been time-consuming, she admitted.
And while the experience has been a rich one for them, they aren’t looking to repeat it.
“This is a one-time thing,” said McMillan about producing.
“This is our first and last rodeo.”