Guest Blogger: Dawn Slegona McDonald: 9mm America: A Theatrical Uprising Against Violence

GBH-Holiday-card-Card-to-be-printed-ONLY1-JPEG_Page_1-1024x705Dawn and I were really moved by Girl Be Heard’s performance of 9MM America.  I’m really proud to stand by her side on the issue of gun reform. Here’s her official review of 9MM America:

As a gun reform advocate and theatre practitioner I was excited to attend a performance of 9mm America, a play running now in New York City that sheds light on America’s gun culture. Written by Girl Be Heard, a group of young women between the ages of 14-23, the play is unique in its perspective. Many of the girls in the cast come from neighborhoods where gun violence is prevalent and some of them are survivors of gun violence, having lost family members to gunfire.  It is clear that their experience with tragedy has empowered them with a sense of responsibility to change something wrong with this country. And what is wrong, they tell us, is that “Gun violence is an addiction and America, you’re an addict…”

The actors take us through the violent history of guns in America from the genocide of Native Americans, through slavery and the civil war, to the sensationalism of guns through our media coverage – a destructive influence that has led to a growing sense of paranoia and the belief that a gun is needed to keep us safe from “all those other people who don’t look like me.” It is this paranoia and fear of “other” that perpetuates the vicious cycle of violence in the neighborhoods these young women call home. In their view, police assume every person of color they see is up to no good, and those same people of color assume the protection of the law does not apply to them. Having worked in prison, I’ve seen the consequences of this unfortunate dynamic. Young black and Hispanic men have taken the law into their own hands and ended up in jail, all because they didn’t feel there was anyone else who would help them.

Also discussed in the play is the way in which the design of our economic and educational systems seems to keep minorities from succeeding. Poverty and lack of proper education have led desperate men and women to turn to other means of survival like drug dealing, theft, and other types of crime – in most instances using a gun for power and protection. Add teen pregnancy to the mix and the cycle just repeats itself over and over again, each new generation learning at a very young age the same lessons of mistrust and survival by the gun. “Cause they can’t seem to find a place they think we belong,” the girls tell us. “So they got us set up in hardship in ghettos to do wrong. Enrage us. Teach us nothing. Then encage us.”

“When will it stop?” the girls ask and I found myself drowning in this question. When our obsession with guns runs so deep and is based on centuries of firmly rooted racism, fear and greed how can we overcome it? Is there hope for us? It occurred to me during the talkback after the performance that perhaps these young women – and others like them – ARE our hope. When others around them are falling prey to the life described above, these girls are refusing to become statistics. They are not joining gangs or getting pregnant, but are finishing school and going to college. And now they are using their experiences to educate others about this issue that is so close to them. They have plans to take the play into schools and to tour the country in order to share their message with as many people as possible. The philosophy of Girl be Heard asserts, “If a girl can change her own life, she can change the lives of girls everywhere.” It is my belief that these women and this play they have so courageously written can potentially change the lives not only of girls, but of people everywhere. “This is a call to action to stop gun violence” they tell us at the play’s conclusion. “Stand up with us now and help us fight for this cause.” I, for one, intend to stand with them.

Dawn Slegona McDonald is a teaching artist and mom based in Brooklyn, NY. She is an active member of the NY/Greater NYC chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Visit momsdemandaction.org for more details.

99mm America is playing now as part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. Robert Moss Theatre, 440 Lafayette St, New York, NY

 Remaining performances:

Friday June 7th at 4:30pm

Sunday June 9th at 5:00pm

Wednesday June 19th at 8:00pm

 Tickets are $18. Purchase at PlanetConnections.org or call (866) 811-4111. To learn more about Girl Be Heard visit girlbeheard.org

 

 

 

Theater & Change

9mm-America-204x300“At the point of deterioration which our sensibility has reached, it is certain that we need above all a theater that wakes us up: nerves and heart.”

The Theatre and Its Double by Antonin Artaud as  translated by Mary Caroline Richards

That’s exactly what I experienced this weekend. Theatre that stripped me. Theatre that made me simultaneously reflect and react then manifest through tears. Theatre that woke up my whole being.

I knew I was in for an experience when my friend, Kate Powers, extended an invitation to see her production of Our Town. Why? Her cast are inmates of Sing Sing and is produced by Rehabilitation Through the Arts (click here for Kate’s post). I had heard of this organization through my sister-in-law, Dawn Slegona McDonald, who is a teaching artist. The cast gave a riveting, honest, emotional performance. Everyone was in tears at the end of the show.  The message of wasting time was not lost on anyone of us. The freedom to live life to the fullest and not squander time was much to absorb as the inmates thanked us for spending our Friday with them, then changed out of their costumes into their prison garb, waved to us and returned to their cells.

Then fast forward to last night. I watched the brave, poignant emotional performances of 11 girls (ages 16-22) in 9MM America by Girl Be Heard for Planet Connectivity. These young women told the story of gun violence in our country. Our country’s new addiction. The victims of firearms. The law that protects the weapons. The proud owners of ammunition.  They told these stories through dance, song, spoken word, monologues. 26 scenes in 75 minutes. Not a dry eye in the theatre. How can there be when these are true stories of growing up in the inner city, losing a child to the gun, the cutting of after school programs and the increase of funding to gun manufacturers. Interesting juxtaposition for me as I thought about the inmates of Sing Sing. These girls are making another choice. They are breaking the cycle of falling victim to their surroundings.

Change happens a step at a time.  Change happens by making a choice. Change happens with you.

June 2013 –Planet Connections Theatre Festivity 
World Premiere of 9mm America
Robert Moss Theatre at 440 Lafayette Street
Tuesday 6/4 at 8:00pm, Friday 6/7/13 at 4:30pm, Sunday 6/9 at 5:00pm, Wednesday 6/19 at 8:00pm
9mm America explores America’s culture of violence as it affects ten young women. A documentary theatre piece devised from direct experience with gangs on the streets of East New York to the shooting death of a sibling in Boston, 9mm America is a call to action to demand an end to gun violence.