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A new play debuting in Louisville confronts the impacts of gun violence

Two male characters in play talk to woman behind coffee shop bar.
David Weller
1NE-OFF Productions
"Helper," 1NE-OFF Productions and Bunbury Theatre Company, follows the story of three people and their collision course with gun violence.

A new production from 1NE-OFF Productions and Bunbury Theatre Company in Louisville tells a story of gun violence and how it impacts people and communities.

“Helper,” set in Helper, Utah, starts in a coffee shop and follows three people as they navigate the aftermath of gun violence.

As the characters meet and interact with each other the conversation flows between topics of racism and bigotry. One character has an open-carry license, which turns the conversation toward gun control.

“And in that challenge, at the end of the first act, a firearm comes out,” said Juergen Tossmann, a founder of 1NE-OFF Productions and former artistic director for Bunbury Theatre Company.

Playwright Patrick Tovatt wrote “Helper” in 2018, but due to COVID-19 and the nationwide protest of police brutality and racial injustice, it wasn’t produced until now.

Tossman said the play is important right now because “we don’t talk to each other" about guns.

“We don't understand each other, we don't understand how to talk, we're too ready to take action through something as ignorant as a firearm,” he said.

As the pandemic has waned, Tossman and other members of 1NE-OFF saw other theater companies coming back to the stage with musicals and lighter pieces of work, but he said he felt it was important to stick to what he called the “roots of theater.”

“And the roots of theater is to present pieces that are challenging, to bring forth issues that people could talk about that, that people can engage in,” he said.

At the end of each performance of “Helper,” cast members and representatives from anti-gun violence organizations will hold talk-back sessions with audience members.

Tossman said the goal is to unpack the impacts of gun violence after each performance.

“And to hopefully find…ways that we can work together to curb this horrible, horrible place we're in this country,” Tossman said.

1NE-OFF and Bunbury have already set aside a portion of their production cost to donate to anti-gun violence organizations like Moms Demand Action, Whitney/Strong and the ACE Project.

Tossman said 1NE-OFF plans to give a majority of their portion of ticket sales to organizations as well.

“It's a way for us to give back to the community to give back to those organizations that are really doing the hard work in trying to curb gun violence and using this vehicle to do that, and it was important to do that,” he said.

Louisville, like many other U.S. cities, has seen increased gun violenceand calls for action from community leaders and politicians. So far in 2023, at least 219 people have been shot and 80 people have been killed by someone shooting a gun in Louisville.

“Helper” runs June 30 through July 16 at the Henry Clay Theatre.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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