Notes on The Chicago Conspiracy Trial by director/creator Frank Condon

January 24, 2021 | Frank Condon, former Odyssey Associate Artistic Director
Chicago Conspiracy Trial

A history of the Odyssey’s original production of The Chicago Conspiracy Trial that was used as source material for the feature film, Trial of the Chicago 7 written and directed by Aaron  Sorkin.

I was walking through the student center at UC Santa Barbara one Friday in 1969,when I came upon a group of theatre students reading sections of transcripts out loud from the ongoing conspiracy trial in Chicago, as soon as they could get hold of them. I found it compelling, a crowd of about 100 people gathered and I said to myself, after about a decade that it would be an extremely powerful piece of theatre. It would document a key event in American history, and become a stunning piece of political theatre

Nearly a decade later, in 1978, I met with Ron Sossi about together creating a theatre piece from the transcripts of the Chicago Conspiracy Trial, which I would direct. Of course I said “yes.” And we immediately went to work obtaining and poring over transcripts. We soon had a storyboard set up in Ron’s office, and there were scenes spread out all over my living room carpet, Scotch tape everywhere.

For several months I immersed myself in the trial, not only the transcripts but also the many detailed written recounts, and the courtroom artists’ drawings, in an effort to find out what the trial was really like.

It was not televised, so for audiences it was the first time, in the theatre, they saw Bobby Seale bound and gagged.

Chicago Conspiracy Trial

One night Ron and I were in the theatre all night coming to terms with the style of the piece, we were in the theatre, with rehearsal and overall, it was more than 12 hours. We walked out of the theatre and the sun was shining. I hadn’t checked my pocket watch for the time.

I went into rehearsal while we were still working on sections of the script. I worked potential scenes with the actors to see if they would work or not, Leonard Weinglass, the lawyer for the Conspiracy and character in the play, was helping us in rehearsals, and he told me the original trial was boring, and the play was exciting. I told him Ron and I simply took out the boring parts.

I wanted to obliterate the sense of attending a play, as nothing would work against the potential impact of the event more than to allow the audience to distance themselves from it. To this end I tried to dispense with a clear-cut beginning, and had the audience enter the “courtroom” through a demonstration of Hippies and Yippies.(The Odyssey was then on Santa Monica Blvd and Bundy,and on a number of occasions we had to explain to police officers that what they were responding to was part of a theatrical event and not a dangerous public disturbance.) One Yippie actor was a Vietnam vet who pulled up his pant leg while addressing the audience to show his real wounds. Inside the theatre, “federal marshals,” instead of ushers, ensured that order and decorum were maintained. If anyone looked suspicious, they were searched against a wall. We also had shills who were roughed up. Once in their seats,a slideshow began,and it chronicled the event in the Chicago park that became a police riot and the savagery of the Chicago police. By the time the audience came to its feet on the clerk’s order to rise,it was the top of the show and it had already been in the world of the event for some time.

One night in the theatre when Bobby Seale was brought into the courtroom bound and gagged, a woman in the front row stood up and yelled,”kill the judge.” She then realized with embarrassment what she had done and slowly sat down. The actors incorporated her outburst into the action without skipping a beat.

We ran that original production for 14 months, several of the actual defendants came including Abbie Hoffman,in disguise because he was wanted by the FBI,Jerry Rubin, Bobbie Seale,Tom Hayden and John Froines and defense lawyer William Kunstler came with Lenny Weinglass. I was watching from the light booth and could see their white knuckles on the chair arms just below me. I met Orson Bean when he came with Paul Krassner, the political activist and defense witness, Anita Hoffman, Abbie’s wife. The production became the must see play in LA. We received numerous awards, including LA Drama Critics awards for Ron and I for playwriting, Ron for producing, and me for directing. The actor, Paul Leiber won for his portrayal of Abbie Hoffman and George Murdoch for his stunning performance as Judge,Julius Hoffman(no relation).

George came with me when we took the Odyssey production of the play to Chicago’s Remains Theatre in 1990. As we were driving together from the airport to our hotel, we were stopped at a light and a fellow crossing the street recognized George, who had a recurring role on the TV show Barney Miller. “Hey, Lieutenant. Scanlon!” George waved with a big smile. Some time later when I came back to Chicago to give notes on the production, George and I were in a car heading to the rehearsal, and someone yelled out, “Hey Judge Hoffman.” George turned to me and we both beamed.

Other Productions:

Odyssey Theatre 1994

After the big earthquake that year, it took me 4 hours to get to the first rehearsal. Actor/ Director, Allan Miller played Kunstler, and the comic, Paul Provenza, was Abbie Hoffman.


River Stage (which I founded in 1994) 2001

In Sacramento, a political city.

Such a big hit people were sneaking in,and tried to bribe the woman in the box office. One night, we had to call the police when someone tried to walk off with tickets.


Odyssey Theatre 2007

The brilliant young actor, Darius Ever Truly, who was playing Bobby Seale, was tragically killed in Culver City during the third week of the run.

We went on, after a brief break, with his understudy.


Our The Chicago Conspiracy Trial has been published three times:


Plays in Process

Theatre Communications Group



West Coast Plays

The California Theatre Council



City Lights Books

San Francisco

Accompanying articles by Tom Hayden



Sound Recorded at Capital Records. Nick Venet, the producer for Dylan and other greats had a courtroom built for us and recorded two performances. One for radicals and the other for studio folk.

Before the first performance Nick led me in to meet a couple of people. We went into the empty set and I saw two of the largest Native Americans I’ve ever seen. One of them said to me, “don’t worry, we have a reservation.” They were being hunted by the FBI for murder. Kim, our Odyssey costume designer, brought Nick piles of towels from where she worked in a towel company and had them sent to the Native Americans who were occupying Alcatraz.



An HBO film production.          

Conspiracy Trial of the Chicago 8

Ron and I were script consultants, and Ron was executive producer.

And now the hit feature film, Trial of the Chicago 7 written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. Ron and I were development consultants, and the Odyssey Theatre received a “Special Thanks.”

The Chicago Conspiracy Trial, a remarkably powerful and important incident in our history, was originally witnessed only by a relatively limited number of spectators, but now, due to our original Odyssey production and those that followed, especially this outstanding feature film, it is becoming part of our collective political culture. As they chanted in the park, “America will remember!”