Amit Paley, then a student journalist, breaks the Secret Court story in a three-part article in Harvard’s student newspaper, The Crimson. The story makes national headlines, warranting an apology by the University’s then president, Lawrence H. Summers, who called the affair “abhorrent and an affront to the values of our university…[These events] are a part of a past that we have rightly left behind.” Yet, in a letter to the editor written only days later, one student declared that the court was “a very appropriate disciplinary move by the College.” The writer, a member of the class of 2004, expounded that “the college should reestablish standards of morality and strongly consider disciplinary measures for those who violate them….To focus simply on the expulsion of homosexual students only serves [the social] agenda to promote acceptance of lifestyles better ignored and repressed by all of us – including the administration.”
Conceiver and Director Tony Speciale reads an article in OUT Magazine by Benoit Denizet-Lewis about the Secret Court of 1920 and is instantly struck by the story of injustice and persecution. He decides to one day bring that story to the stage and so, files the article away in a folder labeled “source material for future projects”.
Massachusetts becomes the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage. The state’s Supreme Judicial Court gives the state legislature 180 days to enact the law.
Same-sex marriage starts in Massachusetts.
Tony Speciale begins his MFA studies at Columbia University under the guidance of Anne Bogart and Brian Kulick.
Tony Speciale reads a book entitled Harvard’s Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals by Yale alumnus William Wright. Further inspired, Tony collects more research to add to his file, (e.g. The Crimson article, period history, online documentation).
Tony Speciale approaches fellow MFA candidates, Playwright Nick Norman and Dramaturg Heather Denyer, about developing a new play about Harvard’s Secret Court of 1920 for inclusion in a play festival, which he is co-producing that summer at Columbia University. The three begin to work under the title The Harvard Project.
Tony Speciale is granted access by Harvard University to copy all 500 pages of archival documents pertaining to the Secret Court. Heather Denyer makes the initial research trip to Harvard Archives and requests photocopies of nearly all the Secret Court transcripts and records. She creates a summary and complete index of the contents of the files. The long process of deciphering the testimonies and correspondence begins.
Heather Denyer gives Nick Norman the Harvard Archive transcripts and he begins using them as the primary source material for the play.
Nick Norman begins writing scenes and sketching out the possible prominent relationships of the play.
The summer play festival at Columbia is cancelled. Work on the Harvard play is temporarily shelved.
Nick Norman takes a Musical Theater Lyric writing class with Deborah Brevoort. Over that semester he writes three songs for the play. Working titles are ‘I'm Sick’, ‘These Nights!’, ‘Why Don't You Dance with Me?’. The music for ‘These Nights’ is composed by Nirmal Chandraratra.
Nick Norman introduces Nirmal Chandraratra to Tony Speciale. They discuss the possibility of musicalizing the Secret Court story as a final project in Tony’s spring directing class led by Professor Anne Bogart. Nick & Nirmal write the beginnings of another song ‘On the Town’ and perform it for Tony. They ultimately decide not to develop the story as a musical and resume their course dramatizing it as a straight play.
Playwright Nick Norman regretfully withdraws from the project due to conflicting personal obligations.
Tony Speciale decides to move forward with the play and considers devising it on his own (sans playwright) with a company of actors and Dramaturg Heather Denyer.
During the course of his MFA studies, Tony Speciale continues to explore the dramatization of the Secret Court story through improvisational workshops, further research and classroom assignments.
Tony Speciale receives his MFA in Directing from Columbia University.
Tony Speciale begins his new employment as Associate Artistic Director of Classic Stage Company.
Director Tony Speciale meets with Dramaturg Heather Denyer to discuss the possibility of reviving the source material in a new play form.
Tony Speciale decides to resume work on The Harvard Project, and takes a fresh look at the story. Tony commits to a more rigorous examination of the source material and to a denser look at the history of these Harvard men in order to develop the written text of the play under a more collaborative model.
Tony Speciale is awarded a prestigious Princess Grace Theatre Honorarium to assist in supporting his continued development of The Harvard Project.
Rehearsals begin for Workshop #1 of The Harvard Project, with Tony Speciale directing. The ensemble is composed of some returning actors: Jess Burkle, Joe Curnutte, Zach Kleinsmith, Patrick McCaffrey, Adam Rihacek, Peter Allen Stone, and some new actors: Frank De Julio, James MacBean, Jerry Marsini, Kila Packett, and Alexis Savino. Dramaturg Heather Denyer, Sound Designer Christian Frederickson and Set Designer Russell Schramm all rejoin. Natalie Robin joins the group as Lighting Designer, and Vanessa Brown as Stage Manager. Tony is assisted by Catherine Barricklow. Tara Schoch-Frederickson continues as a consultant.
In the first week, intense research begins. Photocopies of the handwritten transcripts recorded by the Court are painstakingly deciphered word by word and transcribed into typewritten documents. The group looks further into the history of the period. Fresh evidence is uncovered revealing more details, and new improvisations lead to a deeper look at the lives of these young men, and help uncover a structure for the story. Over the course of five weeks, a completely new play is drafted.
Alexis Savino leaves the project and is replaced by Max Jenkins.
Nick Norman is brought back into the project as a co-writer. Alona Fogel steps in as Associate Producer of the workshop.
The Harvard Project is presented twice in the form of a staged reading at The East Thirteenth Theater in New York. More than 200 people attend. They are sent a questionnaire via electronic mail asking for feedback.
The ensemble meets to discuss their experiences of the presentations, as well as copious comments from audience members received verbally and in response to the workshop questionnaire.
The Harvard Project launches its second workshop aimed at re-imagining the story, expanding the play’s focus to include not only how institutional prejudice affect the students’ lives, but also how their personal relationships deteriorated under the pressure of this public humiliation.
This time after three weeks of work, The Harvard Project 2.0 is presented at The East Thirteenth Street Theater with the same cast and collaborators. This version is Stage Managed by Kate Croasdale.
The ensemble convenes to discuss their experience of The Harvard Project 2.0 workshop and presentation.
Encouraged by the positive and critical responses of the audiences from the previous two workshops, Tony begins meetings to plan the third workshop of The Harvard Project to take place in March.
The ensemble gathers to begin a third workshop. Meredith Lynsey Schade comes on board as producer and researcher. The play is given the working title Fair Harvard. Deciding to focus on the script, in the course of four weeks, the group overhauls the structure of the piece, working to find the core of the play, and to distill the script to the most compelling, expressive and immediate way of dramatizing the Secret Court story.
Fair Harvard is presented to a select group of theatre professionals, producers and colleagues in a staged reading at The East Thirteenth Street Theater and Ripley Grier Studios with same cast, collaborators and designers. Megan Griffith comes on board as Stage Manager. Marc Bovino generously returns to read stage directions.
Director Tony Speciale follows up with many of the Industry professionals who attended the readings of Fair Harvard lining up options for the future of the play. Classic Stage Company expresses interest to option the new play.
Classic Stage Company commits to produce Fair Harvard, but encourages the ensemble to brainstorm a new name for the play. The authors arrive at a new title: Unnatural Acts: Harvard’s Secret Court of 1920.
Classic Stage Company announces in the press that Unnatural Acts will receive its off-Broadway premiere in June 2011 as the capstone of their upcoming season.
The play’s official website [unnaturalactstheplay.com] is launched, and the campaign to raise $100,000 for the 2011 production of Unnatural Acts begins.
Releases are sent to the press announcing the upcoming Classic Stage Company production of Unnatural Acts. Previews begin June 15th, and opening night is slated for June 23rd. The cast will feature Jess Burkle, Joe Curnutte, Frank De Julio, Roe Hartrampf, Roderick Hill, Max Jenkins, Brad Koed, Jerry Marsini, Devin Norik, Will Rogers and Nick Westrate. Set design is by Walt Spangler, lighting by Justin Townsend, costumes by Andrea Lauer and original music and sound design by Christian Frederickson. The play will be directed by Tony Speciale.
Unnatural Acts plays to sold out houses at NYC's Classic Stage Company. The run is extended three times due to popular demand.