In this essay, the members of the Remember2019 Collective, Arielle Julia Brown, Ashley Teague, Carlos Sirah, Mauricio Tafur Salgado and Yazmany Arboleda, talk about their eight-year durational, grassroots engagement with the Black community of the Arkansas Delta.
As new parents in 2015, my playwright partner Gabriel Jason Dean and I were thrust into a new moment of our lives. Everything was suddenly up for debate: How were we going to afford a stable future for our child? Did we believe in Tupperware being washed on the bottom section of the dishwasher? What was our stance on the global economy? Everything that came into our lives became a question, and those questions birthed questions of their own.
One evening in October, after hearing about yet another mass shooting in America — the Umpqua Community College shooting in Roseburg, Oregon — we were both struck by the details in a new way. As parents, the stories of young people hiding in bathrooms, families told to wait on former fairgrounds for news of their children’s survival resonated more personally than they had before.
We began to unpack our own stance on guns more. Who should have them? Can they all be taken away? In what instances are they an absolute necessity? What were we going to teach our son about guns, about shootings? Neither one of us is comfortable accepting easy answers. And so we research and gather facts so that we can hopefully see all the angles. While taking a deeper dive into mass shootings and gun violence, we consistently found erasure: erasure of people, erasure of place, erasure of simple enjoyment, erasure of our own American history, and an erasure of the emotional damage we’re causing an entire generation of young people.
We, as a nation, now have weeks out of the year when we expect more mass shootings to occur. We have a movement created by children to help combat our sick system. We have active shooter drills in our Pre-K schools. How can we begin to have a conversation about changing our fundamental ideas about guns and gun control when everything around us tries to normalize it? How can we, as a nation of people, be so ambivalent towards action when we all just want to feel safe?
Our questioning and research led us to write a show. Early on, we felt that music would be involved and so we asked our friend/collaborator and composer, David Dabbon, to come on board with us. Through music, immersion and metatheatrics, “Our New Town” puts the audience at the center of the story. It calls us all to act, to wake up and to take ownership of our personal relationship with guns and gun violence.
Thanks to developmental time, space and support from The Civilians R&D 2016-2017, the show will open this weekend at Wagner College on Staten Island, under the direction of Theresa McCarthy. We workshopped the piece with Theresa and the cast there last spring and learned so much.
Unfortunately, the threat of gun violence hit Wagner’s campus on September 25th of this year, during our rehearsal process, when professor Richard Brower made threatening remarks to students during his class saying about another class he was teaching: “If I had a gun, I would shoot every one of them in the head,” according to one source. He has since been fired.
The college-aged actors we’d hoped would inhabit the piece some day are now wrestling with it, challenging it, and turning it into something all their own. They’re a tremendous group of talented actors — willing to throw themselves deeply into the work, into the questions and into the music. We are fortunate to be able to have this conversation with them and their audiences. And we’re excited to see where the show goes from here and what impact it will have.
For tickets and more information, click here.
Tickets are available for “Our New Town” through October 13, 2019.