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Retired Osgoode Hall law professor pursues dream of becoming playwright, addresses gun violence

Click to play video: 'From professor to playwright: Alan Young’s first play hits the stage' From professor to playwright: Alan Young’s first play hits the stage
WATCH ABOVE: As Catherine McDonald reports, hundreds packed a Toronto theatre over the weekend to see Alan Young’s play examining the cause of mass shootings – Feb 3, 2020

For 34 years, Alan Young taught criminal law at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, fought prostitution and marijuana laws and founded Osgoode’s Innocence Project, which seeks justice for the wrongfully convicted.

Young also published more than 50 legal articles and wrote a book in 2003 called Justice Defiled: Perverts, Potheads, Serial Killers & Lawyers.

But Young said he always wanted to write a play, and that was something he never did because his legal career got in the way.

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“Originally I was supposed to be an artist, so to speak, but due to a lot of family pressures and cowardice on my part, I ended up pursuing law almost as a joke because people dared me to do it,” he told Global News as he relaxed on a couch in his downtown Toronto apartment building.

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“The career went well and I was able to help people and so that lets me sleep at night, but I was never comfortable with it.

“I waited 34 years to reach this point where I could retire and do what I wanted to do when I was 20.”

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Since leaving Osgoode Hall in 2018, Young said he’s spent a lot of time watching daytime TV — in particular, American cable news — and it’s what inspired his first play, Cause and Effect.

The one-act play comprised of 10 ambiguously connected scenes touches on the rising phenomena of mass shootings and mass murder was performed by a theatre company from Montreal on Saturday.

“I was just inundated by watching television for two years,” said Young. “I just needed to let this out.”

“The explosion from 2018, for the last two years — primarily in the United States, but other places in the world, too — was even shocking to someone like myself who had spent a lot of time as an academic studying serial killing. It seemed like the world was so angry and so many people had grudges.”

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The academic said he’s watched experts speculate on why there was so much gun violence and said his play addresses that question, as well as the lack of answers amid the crisis.

“This is happening, it’s horrifying and everybody has an opinion, but ultimately nobody knows why it’s happening and are concerned, obviously, and can’t do anything to stop it, especially the United States,” he said.

Young’s play was performed by a theatre company from Montreal called Hey Lady Productions. The actors came to Toronto for the one-night performance.

“The greatest irony of my life, of my new life, is I had a play about mass murder being performed Saturday night and woke up to the killing at the Airbnb downtown and I put my actors in an Airbnb down the street,” explained Young.

“I had to spend a half hour trying to find out whether my actors were shot.”

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Young said he can’t explain why we are seeing more mass shootings.

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“We know there are a lot of angry people in the world, but not everyone’s a ticking time bomb,” he said.

“But there is some core group of people that are exploding in these horrific shootings and we need to know what changes an angry person into a ticking time bomb, and I don’t think anybody knows.”

Young said the play makes fun of some theories.

For example, one scene shows a research scientist who hypothesizes that mass killers eat too many Frosted Flakes and read The Catcher in the Rye.

He said politicians and lawmakers are desperate to make society safer, but adds that, “I don’t think we have a clue about why modern society has become so volatile.”

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Young said he was funded by someone for whom he did pro bono work, but it was only for the one-night performance. He’s looking for financial backing so his play can return to a theatre in Toronto.

Proceeds from the play were donated to the Victim Justice Network, an advocacy group for victims of crime.

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