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On the date of Columbine, 8 plays on gun violence will be read across the U.S.


Yesterday marked 15 years since the shooting at Virginia Tech. Columbine happened on this coming Wednesday's date in 1999. There are anniversaries of mass shootings up and down the calendar. Reporter Jeff Lunden has this on a program called #Enough, Plays to End Gun Violence. It uses short plays by teens to address the epidemic of gun violence.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Director Michael Cotey was in rehearsal on February 14, 2018, when the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida occurred.

MICHAEL COTEY: This is the third time that I had been in rehearsal when one of these horrific mass shootings have happened - so Sandy Hook and Las Vegas specifically. And I was like, there's got to be some way we could respond as a theater community to what felt like this just increase and ceaseless violence.

LUNDEN: Inspired by student protests following Parkland, he created the #Enough plays. In 2020, seven plays by high school students 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.

AVERY HAMILL: It's difficult to make a community if you're just talking at them with stats and numbers.

LUNDEN: That's Avery Hammill, a high school student from outside Philadelphia. He's on the board of Students Demand Action, a group dedicated to ending gun violence. And his chapter sponsored a Zoom reading in 2020.

HAMILL: #Enough is hitting them in the hearts with these breathtaking pieces of student work.

LUNDEN: This year, eight 10-minute plays have been selected for live readings followed by discussion, says Michael Cotey.

COTEY: We've got nearly 60 communities across the country that are going to be participating in our nationwide reading on April 20, 2022, in, I think, 26 states this year. We've got a sort of a flagship reading at Lincoln Center in their atrium space.

LUNDEN: Lincoln Center's director of programming, Shanta Thake, says #Enough is a good way to start serious discussions about gun violence.

SHANTA THAKE: People are much more prone to participate in larger national dialogues if they've seen an art piece about it and at that moment.

LUNDEN: The young playwrights involved have written wildly different pieces from realistic to impressionistic, reflecting their own experiences, including personal losses from gun violence.

TAYLOR LAFAYETTE: Travis, also known as T.J., is my younger brother. He was 16 when he passed.

LUNDEN: Taylor Lafayette is a senior at Mississippi School of the Arts. T.J. was killed in a robbery over a year ago, and part of his sister's healing process has been to write the short play "Salted Lemonade."

LAFAYETTE: My play really just features about the pain that Black mothers go through when raising a child to be a grown man and just worrying about them because they know of all the things that happen in the world.

LUNDEN: She reads an excerpt.

LAFAYETTE: (Reading) I'm scared. I'm not scared of the man he's becoming, but I'm scared of the world he's going to be coming in.

LUNDEN: Another author, Anya Jimenez from Brooklyn, says she's been participating in active shooter drills since the age of 6.

ANYA JIMENEZ: There's this whole idea that our generation is supposed to save the world, and we're supposed to be the ones to fix everything that has been left for us, but we're also being shot dead in algebra class.

LUNDEN: She's written "It's Okay," a dreamscape between a mother and the disembodied voice of what the audience discovers is her dead child. Here's an excerpt.

JIMENEZ: (Reading) And you think about what a body is when it's in your hands, and it used to be her, but now it's it, and it's heavy, and it doesn't wake up, and it shouldn't have happened, but it did. And I'm still here, and she doesn't get to be. And it just keeps coming. How long until I wake up?

LUNDEN: McKennzie Boyd has written "Southside Summer," about her neighborhood in Chicago. She adapted it from a poem she wrote about gun violence.

MCKENNZIE BOYD: (Reading) The first gunshot - I can't forget that day. Bullets dropping like rain leaving clouds of smoke to cover us. So we started our game. The second gunshot - we ducked behind the cars, camouflaging, praying that the lives that they claimed wouldn't be ours.

LUNDEN: Even though she's only 16, Boyd seems older than her years.

BOYD: We don't want the next generation to have to grow up as fast as we did. That's all we - we want that childhood that, you know, wasn't there for us. So now in this authority and adulthood and maturity, we have the ability to do something about this, to acknowledge the problem and change things.

LUNDEN: She and several of the playwrights will be traveling to New York for the #Enough reading on Wednesday, hoping to be part of that generational change with their art. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.
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