‘May 4th Voices’ play brings Tina Fey, others to be a part of virtual commemoration

David Hassler, director of Wick Poetry Center and author of the May 4th Voices play. 

As the 50th Commemoration of May 4 transitions completely online, one event already fits the bill. The one-hour radio special, based on the “May 4th Voices: Kent State 1970” play scripted by David Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center, gives various perspectives from those affected by the historical events of May 4. 

The play was originally written in 2009 for the 40th commemoration. It weaves together voices from the oral history archives to describe the lead-up and aftermath of the shootings on Kent State’s campus, Hassler said.

“I often felt through scripting the play, one of the hallmarks of trauma is silencing and finding these oral histories was a way for us to hear voices of the ‘other.’ Through the sleight of hand of theater, by weaving these oral histories together, you can hear one voice speaking and responding to another,” he said.    

Hassler grew up in Kent and was six years old on May 4, 1970. Writing this play allowed him to articulate his childhood perspective through the use of others’ voices.

“I think it’s an exciting, outward-facing project that brings voices from Kent State into communities around the country and makes meaning of this difficult and traumatic event,” Hassler said.  

All of the participants volunteered their time and talent to this project for free. The other costs of production, such as studio space, equipment and editing, were funded through the May 4 50th Commemoration budget, said Rod Flauhaus, project manager for the 50th Commemoration of May 4.

The project, which has been in the works for several years, showcases voices such as Tina Fey, her husband, Jeff Richmond, and numerous other professionals. Beyond the cast’s industry experience is its connection to Kent State. Some are alumni, professors, or those with an even more personal association, such as Natalie Knepp, daughter of Chic Canfora and niece of Alan Canfora, May 4 survivor and an expert on the subject. This connection to Kent was a main factor in choosing the voice actors, said Joe Gunderman, producer and director of the play and production coordinator at WKSU. 

“It was an honor to be a part of it. It was something that I felt a lot of the experience I’ve had in the past has kind of led me to be able to take this on with him without hesitation. To be confident that I could do it justice which is paramount, you want to do it justice, ” Gunderman said. 

“May 4th Voices: Kent State 1970” has been produced several times before, both on-stage and in radio, and has also been used in classrooms as a teaching tool, Flauhaus said. The radio play, which is available for National Public Radio stations to use, was a special collaboration for the 50th anniversary of May 4.  

“It’s a chance to hear, through actors’ tragic interpretations, the actual stories of people who were there from a lot of different perspectives,” Gunderman said. “They were a lot closer to the event when they told these stories, even than we are now. It’s a chance to kind of be there a little bit and try to remember what it was like if you’re old enough or try to visualize what it was like if you’re younger than that.”    

The play will be broadcast twice on WKSU on Monday, May 4, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. For a complete list of when and where the play is going to be broadcast or to listen to the play online, visit the play’s website

Abigail Mack is a general assignment reporter. Contact her at [email protected]