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Hartford Area Teens Tackle Gun Violence in a Play They Wrote Themselves

Jul 25, 2016

"It’s sort of a beautiful opportunity, I think, to take all that raw stuff and turn it into art.”
Hannah Simms

Ten high school and college aged students stood in small groups on opposite sides of a black box theater, chatting excitedly about their ideas, before getting into character and diving into intense conversations on gun violence.

The interns at the Youth Play Institute at Hartbeat Ensemble have been working for the past month -- interviewing lobbyists and politicians, doing research, and writing and rehearsing their own play in Hartford, Connecticut.

Through their research and writing, the group has created a play called “A Bullet’s Conscience” that draws on broad debates about the second amendment.

The topic, co-facilitator Hannah Simms said, was picked over a year ago, and Hartbeat Ensemble did not anticipate how timely it would be.

Simms said with all the recent gun related news, the play has helped these interns process some their emotions and feelings around the issue.

“The only thing that I know to do with all of that is to make art,” she said. “So it’s sort of a beautiful opportunity I think to take all that raw stuff and turn it right away into art.”

The play is about two sisters grappling with the loss of their brother to gun violence. Vanessa Butler, a co-facilitator at YPI said the interns have used the issue within this family issue to address the larger conversation happening in the U.S. The sisters fall on opposite sides of the gun control debate.

Co-facilitator Vanessa Butler writes down potential title ideas for the play.
Credit Katie Burns / WNPR

“Here you have this internal conflict within this family about what to do especially since it's so close and so related to the loss of their brother,” Butler said. “I thought was an absolutely brilliant, beautiful analogy about what's going on in this country, it’s not us against them, it’s all of us together.”

Malique Thompson, a high school student and intern with YPI, said one of the challenges in writing the play were finding points of view that weren’t based on personal bias in their research. Overall, he said he has enjoyed the freedom interns have in creating.

“They're not enforcing their ideas on us we’re being more welcome to do whatever we please with the play,” Thompson said.

 The interns have interviewed several experts on the topic of gun control, including professors, lobbyists and Senator Chris Murphy.

“[Murphy] didn’t hide anything, we asked him a question, he answered it to the best of his ability and just gave us straight facts,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the conversation with Murphy prompted the interns to address gun laws and government conflict in their play.

Simms also pointed out that talking to experts has been interesting for the students as they have been able to talk to experts about what personal experience they have with gun violence.  

Malique Thompson, left, and Isabella Hudson rehearse a scene from "A Bullet's Conscience".
Credit Katie Burns / WNPR

“It’s been really interesting for me hearing these kids talk, a few of whom have personal experiences with gun violence,” Simms said. “That most of our policy on all sides of the issue  in this country is made by people who have not experienced gun violence or rampant gun violence in their communities.”  

The interns at YPI use consensus based decision making meaning that everyone has to agree on creative decisions before they go forward. Lydia Henning, a student at Hall High School, said that the process is helpful, as working in a group can be challenging.

“It’s nice to have structure for how the process works and it's also very productive to get people to come together for a decision that everyone likes,” Henning said.

In the past, it has been challenging for some groups to come to an agreement on creative decisions, Butler said, but that was not the case with this group.

“This particular group, I feel like, has a lot of very similar opinions and ideas and there are certain things about this topic that are important to them that in general everyone agrees that those are the top priority issues for them,” Butler said.

"A Bullet's Conscience" is at the Carriage House Theater in Hartford on July 29, 30, and 31. Tickets are $5.00 and can be purchased online, or by calling (860) 548-9144.

Katie Burns is an intern at WNPR.