Posted Aug 02, 2009 03:10 am CDT
When Hank Perritt went to war-torn Kosovo in 1998 to help create computer databases to track supplies for refugee camps, armed with nothing more than an MIT master’s degree and a J.D. from Georgetown, his friends thought he was brave and dedicated for taking on the task.
When he began asking former Serbian military officers to reveal where land mines were located so he could produce an online mine map, some thought he might be pushing it.
But none of Perritt’s friends ever thought he was a crazy risk-taker. Until now.
Perritt, the former dean of Chicago-Kent College of Law, has written a musical about Kosovo and is funding its debut this summer in Chicago.
A musical about a bloody war? Who is going to want to see that, skeptical friends wondered.
“It won’t have tap-dancing soldiers,” Perritt assures. “There’s a long history of translating dark matter into rock opera. Les Miserables and Miss Saigon were my models. All my life, I’ve composed music.”
Perritt’s musical, You Took Away My Flag, focuses on young, ragged Kosovo Liberation Army insurgents battling Serbs. The play’s heart is a Romeo and Juliet-style love story between a Kosovar Albanian girl and a Serbian boy.
The KLA youths confront devilish choices. When Islamic extremists want to join the mostly Christian KLA, the KLA must decide whether to trust potential enemies. The intricate plot also encompasses NATO officers and diplomats.
Perritt, now the director of Chicago-Kent’s graduate program in financial services law, also found his students more than willing to rally around his Flag. A number of his current and former law students have joined Flag’s cast and volunteered to make props and costumes.
Second-year Chicago-Kent law student Diana Rdzanek, 25, plays a KLA soldier. “Professor Perritt has songs about civil procedure on his website, so I wasn’t too surprised when he told us about the play,” she says, laughing. “Being in it is wonderful! I’m learning to use my voice and demeanor in new ways—which I guess could come in handy in a courtroom.”
Perritt is accustomed to long shots. He started his career wanting to unite lawyers and engineers to work together on rule-of-law projects that utilize cyberspace. “As late as the 1990s, law firms were telling me, ‘We don’t want our associates using computers; they’re not typists,’ ” he recalls.
Nevertheless, Perritt became the go-to guy for telecommunications on former President Bill Clinton’s transition team. His guidelines for electronic dissemination of public information were translated into the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments adopted by Congress in 1996. In 2000 he headed a bipartisan task force reviewing the FBI’s controversial Carnivore program that monitored Internet usage of terrorist suspects.
Rdzanek wonders how Perritt found the time to write a rock opera. “He actually reads the papers he grades,” she says.
His book, The Road to Independence for Kosovo, will be published this year. Perritt plans a visit to Iraq to help judges and court officers get online. And he plans to continue the piano lessons he began as he ran for Congress in 2002. He lost the race, but his piano playing is improving.
“It’s harder to learn as an adult,” he explains, “but it helps me become a better songwriter.”
Audio: “My Shiptar Princess” from You Took Away My Flag.
Audio: “Band of Brothers” from You Took Away My Flag.
Video: WGN9 report on You Took Away My Flag.