NATIONWIDE: In the first weeks after Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and killed 20 children and 6 teachers with his mother’s semi-automatic rifle, gun-control advocates in Congress pushed for sweeping reforms with a renewed sense of purpose. Within four months, they had dropped every demand except a modest background check expansion, which died in a Senate filibuster. But during the same time period, even as the response on Capitol Hill has deflated, a band of playwrights’ response to the massacre has taken muscular form.
The theatrical movement, Gun Control Theatre Action, has poured its message into 24 Gun Control Plays, a diverse collection of three- to seven-minute shorts by an international cadre of writers. Politically minded playwright Caridad Svich launched the project shortly after the Newtown shootings, when a friend asked if she was writing a gun-control play. “I wasn’t, but I felt like I should,” she recalls. “But I didn’t want to write it by myself.”
Instead, Svich sent out an open call to playwrights right after New Year’s Day 2013, and within two weeks, she received more than 100 short plays, monologues and poems, approaching the subject of gun violence from a multitude of angles. At the same time, Molly Smith, artistic director of Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., was organizing a March on Washington for Gun Control on Jan. 26. Svich quickly coordinated with Smith, along with director John Moletress of the interdisciplinary ensemble force/collision and Theater J artistic director Ari Roth, to present 12 of the new plays at Theater J after the march. Serendipitously, one of the playwrights, Kyle Bostian, helped set up a similar event with Pittsburgh PACT on the same day.
Since then, various combinations of the 24 core plays, written by Svich, Bostian, Neil LaBute, Erik Ehn, Saviana Stanescu and many others, have been performed in venues ranging from New York’s New Dramatists, Seattle’s Theatre Simple, the MLK Memorial in D.C., even the Darlinghurst Theatre Company in Sydney, Australia. The latter two performances were part of a global Gun Control Theatre Action Week, coordinated in the last week of May by Svich’s NoPassport and Meredith Lynsey Schade of the L.A. company the Vicious Circle. NoPassport’s press also published the plays in an anthology, and offered open rights to producers around the world during Action Week.
To broaden the reach of the plays, Svich’s team will continue to look for opportunities to perform them at public events. They’ve also filmed some of the plays and posted them on YouTube. While she has no illusions that the plays will instantly change anyone’s mind on the issue, Svich hopes they’ll spur people to reflect on, and potentially reframe, the underlying issues—including the reverence for guns in American culture and how that reverence can interact with anger, fear and mental illness. “Because I feel Congress has failed us,” she says, “we have to do something as artists to keep the dialogue open.”