Theatre artist Michael Cotey was in rehearsal at the Goodman Theatre when the news of the devastating Parkland shooting broke. “I started thinking about ways theatre artists could respond to this,” he recalls. Partly inspired by Tectonic Theater Project’s “The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later” reading series, in which he was involved, Cotey created the #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence initiative as a way to galvanize a nationwide dialogue around gun violence.
Throughout 2020, #ENOUGH plans to provide a platform for middle and high school students across the country to create 10-minute plays exploring the impact gun violence has on their lives and communities. “We’re looking for a kaleidoscope view on this issue with many diverse voices from across the country about how gun violence is impacting all of us,” says Cotey. “The only way we can do that is if we get plays from teen voices.”
Submissions are now being accepted through April 20, the 21st anniversary of the Columbine shooting (the submission page can be found here). Playwrights Lauren Gunderson, David Henry Hwang, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Robert Schenkkan, and Karen Zacarías will serve as the play selection committee. In August, six to 10 selected finalists will workshop their plays at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, Utah. The project will culminate with simultaneous readings across the nation on Dec. 14, the eighth anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy. The goal is to present one reading of the selected plays for every mass shooting that occurred in 2019—a staggering 417.
In addition to Utah Shakespeare Festival, a growing number of theatres across the nation are partnering with #ENOUGH to bolster the project and host readings, including Arizona Theatre Company, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Orlando Repertory Theatre, South Coast Repertory, and Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Local chapters of gun safety organizations and other nonprofits are also partnering with #ENOUGH to help spread the word about the initiative.
“Youth needs to be at the center of this entire project,” says Cotey, noting the inspiring student leaders of the March for Our Lives movement. Theatre companies and schools are encouraged to pass the reins of producing and planning the #ENOUGH readings on to the students, and for the casts to comprise students.
Cotey describes #ENOUGH as a “choose your own adventure project.” There are a number of ways that students, educators, and theatre companies can be involved. Some teachers are building #ENOUGH into their curriculum, and some schools are volunteering to host readings. Cotey hopes that students—whether or not they have prior theatre or writing experience—will be inspired to submit work on their own.
“We left the requirements for the writing pretty wide open, so someone might write a 10-minute play with up to 6 characters, or someone might write a powerful four-minute monologue,” says Cotey. “We really didn’t want to put any limitations on how these students might want to express themselves about the issues of gun violence.”
In addition to providing young writers a platform to showcase their writing, the readings will also be an opportunity to spark community dialogue around issues of gun violence. The #ENOUGH advisory committee will provide theatre companies and schools hosting with facilitation and discussion guidance.
“People can get creative and build around this project so that maybe it moves beyond the writing of the plays. How does it lead to action in your communities?” Cotey wonders. “We’re hoping this is a springboard for communities to address gun violence in the way that they need to, and that this project will be a starting point.”
Cotey concludes: “At the very least, give these students who live with the stress and anxiety of gun violence constantly a place to express those emotions creatively and proactively. In a way, if that’s all this program achieves, I think that’s a huge success.”
Educators looking to get their students involved, or theatres and organizations interested in partnering with #ENOUGH, can find more information at enoughplays.com
*A previous version of this article stated that Cotey was in rehearsal at the Guthrie Theater, it was the Goodman Theatre.