Wednesday marks the 23rd anniversary of the Columbine school shooting. Across the country, theaters and civic organizations are commemorating this event by presenting readings of eight short plays by teenagers. The program is called #Enough: Plays to End Gun Violence.
Director Michael Cotey was in rehearsal on February 14, 2018, when the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida happened. “It was the third time I had attended a rehearsal when one of those horrific mass shootings happened,” Cotey said. “So Sandy Hook and Las Vegas, in particular. And I was like, there’s got to be a way for us as a theater community to respond to what just felt like this…relentless violence.
Inspired by the student protests after Parkland, he created the #Enough pieces. In 2020, seven high school student plays were presented, mostly on Zoom, by major regional theaters, like the Goodman in Chicago and Berkeley Rep, as well as community organizations and schools, across the country.
“It’s hard to build a community if you’re just talking to them with statistics and numbers,” says Avery Hamill, a high school student from outside Philadelphia. He is a board member of Students Demand Action, a group dedicated to ending gun violence, and his chapter sponsored a Zoom reading in 2020. “#Enough strikes them in the heart with these student works at Breathtaking.”
This year, eight ten-minute plays have been selected for live readings, followed by discussions. “We have nearly 60 communities across the country that are going to be participating in our national reading on April 20, 2022, in, I think, 26 states this year,” says Michael Cotey, adding, “We have a kind of flagship reading at the Lincoln Center in their atrium.”
Lincoln Center Director of Programming Shanta Thake thinks #Enough is a good way to start serious discussions about gun violence. “People are much more likely to participate in broader national dialogues if they’ve seen a piece of art about it, and at that time,” she explains.
The young playwrights involved wrote wildly different plays, ranging from realistic to impressionistic, reflecting their own experiences, including personal losses from gun violence. “Travis, also known as TJ, is my younger brother. He was 16 when he passed away,” said Taylor Lafayette, an 18-year-old senior at Mississippi School of the Arts in Benoit, Mississippi. TJ was killed in a robbery. over a year ago, and part of her sister’s healing process was writing the short play Salty Lemonade. “My play is all about the things that black mothers go through when they raise a child to be a grown man,” she says, “and worry about them because they know everything that’s going on. in the world”.
Anya Jiménez, 18, lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and attends the Professional Performing Arts School in Manhattan. She says she has been participating in active shooting exercises since she was six years old. “There’s this whole idea that our generation is supposed to save the world and we’re supposed to be the ones fixing everything that’s left for us,” Jiménez said. “But we also fell in algebra class.”
She is written Its good, a dreamlike landscape, between a mother and the disembodied voice of what the audience discovers to be her dead child. Here is an exerpt :
“Another gun, another shooting. This shouldn’t have happened. Thoughts, prayers, thoughts and prayers. Shot and dead. Thoughts and prayers. Shot and dead. Shot and dead. Shot and dead. And again and again over and over and over. It shouldn’t have happened. And you think about what a body is when it’s in your hands and it was her. But now it is. And it’s heavy and It doesn’t wake up and it shouldn’t have happened And I’m still here and she won’t And it keeps coming How long until I wake up?
McKennzie Boyd wrote summer on the south side, about his neighborhood in Chicago. She adapted it from a poem she wrote about gun violence. Although she’s only 16, Boyd looks older.
“We don’t want the next generation to grow up as fast as us,” she says. “That’s all we want. We want that childhood that, you know, wasn’t there for us. So now, in that authority and that adulthood and that maturity, we have the ability to do something about this topic to recognize the problem and change things.”
She and several of the playwrights will travel to New York for the #Enough reading on Wednesday, hoping to be part of this generational shift, with their art.