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Teen playwrights confront gun violence in national theater project #ENOUGH

The eight teen playwrights whose works were selected for the 2022 #ENOUGH nationwide reading. Light to right: McKennzie Boyd, Arianna Brumfield, Willa Colleary, Anya Jiménez, Taylor Lafayette, Tain Leonard-Peck, Cameron Thiesing and Wyn Alyse Thomas.
Courtesy #Enough
The eight teen playwrights whose works were selected for the 2022 #ENOUGH nationwide reading. Light to right: McKennzie Boyd, Arianna Brumfield, Willa Colleary, Anya Jiménez, Taylor Lafayette, Tain Leonard-Peck, Cameron Thiesing and Wyn Alyse Thomas.

Cameron Thiesing wants audiences to feel the frustration at the heart of her short play. 

The duPont Manual High senior’s piece is called “Undo, Redo.” It’s about a school shooting.

“It aims to raise awareness on the effects that gun violence can have not only on the people who are injured or killed during school shootings and their families, but also on the mental health of the people who survive these school shootings,” she told WFPL News. 

The play’s main character is a young girl whose friend dies in a school shooting, and the details of the horrific event keep replaying in her head. The flashbacks bring up questions for her, including whether she could have done something to save her friend or stop the violence. 

“And it really just documents her coming to terms with the fact that it can't be changed and her dealing with this and the frustration that the situation brings,” Thiesing said.

Thiesing spent hours researching and reading news stories and first-hand accounts from school shootings, all of which further frustrated her; she was angered that so many had happened and exasperated with how little she felt was being done to address the issue.    

“So I really wanted to channel that feeling of frustration into the play… and then also convey that frustration to the audience, in hopes that the audience will feel the frustration as well.”

Thiesing is flying to New York to see her play performed in Lincoln Center’s atrium Wednesday night. That’s because “Undo, Redo” is one of eight works, written by high schoolers, selected for a national theater project called “#ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence.” 

Now in its third year, the initiative invites teenagers to confront and discuss gun violence through their art.

For Katie Blackerby Weible, that mission is the embodiment of what theater is designed to do, especially when it comes to working with young people, “leading the kids to be able to connect their art form to civic engagement.” 

“You know, how do I use this in terms of my citizenship? How do I use my voice to speak about issues that are important to me through the lens of theater?” said Blackerby Weible, who chairs the theater department at the Youth Performing Arts School at duPont Manual High.

As a performance of this year’s #ENOUGH plays gets underway in New York — on the 23rd anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. — dozens of schools around the country will stage their own readings of the eight plays, including YPAS.

About 30 Manual students are participating in the Louisville performance, which will be followed by a conversation about gun violence in the local community.

Blackerby Weible said a number of her students have some kind of connection to the gun violence in their community.

“These aren’t ideas that adults have put forth for students to think about,” Blackerby Weible said. “These are ideas that the kids have put forth, that we need to be thinking about. It's straight from their mouths.” 

While Cameron Thiesing’s play focuses on school shootings, the eight selected #ENOUGH works look at gun violence from many different angles and perspectives, including racial disparities and what it can do to a family. 

“These eight plays not only shed light on the complexity of the issue of gun violence, but they also reveal that gun violence is a symptom of much larger root issues, like racial and economic inequality, that our country has failed to deal with,” #ENOUGH artistic producer Michael Cotey said in a press release. “Their perspectives are not only wise but bold, provocative and vital to the urgent moment we find ourselves in.”

Thiesing thinks “the idea of turning to the arts to motivate us to have change” is very effective, and would like to see it applied to other pressing societal issues as well. 

“And invite people to share their own work that sparks that idea of change, and things that they would like to see made different in our society,” she said. “Just knowing that like, oh, you can submit your play next. It's your turn to make a difference, state your opinion and try to motivate people as well… because if people aren't going to listen through our words or protests, then we can try with the arts and see if that makes a difference.”

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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