On Dec. 14 – the eighth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting – local actors and activists will tackle the issue of gun violence through seven plays streamed by the South Bend Civic Theater.
The plays are the winners of #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence, a national short play contest for middle and high school students. Nearly 50 communities across the U.S. and around the world are producing staged readings of the winning plays.
South Bend Civic Theatre Executive Director Aaron Nichols said that when he first heard about the project a few weeks ago, there wasn’t a theater in Indiana that was participating.
“And I was like, ‘Oh my god, yes there is, it’s gonna be us,’" Nichols said. "It so aligns with our mission to have conversations about topics that are so relevant to our community.”
To that end, the Civic partnered with a local activist group to produce the plays. Connect 2 Be The Change was formed by Loria Perez and TaKisha Jacobs after they both lost children to gun violence. Now, they work to fight racial stereotyping and to help young people in South Bend solve problems in healthy ways.
Part of that work, Perez said, is involving kids in projects like #ENOUGH. Most of the actors in the Civic’s staged readings are young adults in her youth program, many of whom have been personally affected by gun violence.
“Some of them have been affected just recently, and we thought it was something therapeutic for them to get involved with and help them cope with losing a loved one or surviving gun violence,” Perez said.
Deja Keys plays the character Aiyanna in “Togetha,” one of the winning plays. The story follows four girls celebrating their high school graduation until a drive-by shooting brings the party to a halt.
Keys says gun violence has affected multiple people in her life, including some who she says have “passed away.” She says she can bring all of that to her performance – in fact, it’s what drew her to the character in the first place.
“I can put myself in my character’s shoes," Keys said. "It’s like I’m there.”
Perez said those connections can be invaluable to young people struggling to understand the impact of gun violence on their lives.
“To bring it to life, I think that’s a connection in disguise," she said. "It just gives them another highlight of, ‘You’re not the only one who’s thinking about how enough is enough with all this gun violence.’”
The readings will be followed by a virtual “community conversation” about gun violence with South Bend Mayor James Mueller and other guests. Nichols said that follow-up is part of the theater’s responsibility to amplify community voices.
“Institutions like the South Bend Civic Theatre have a responsibility to share underrepresented stories, to get in the middle of public crisis,” he said.
The South Bend Civic Theatre will stream #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence at 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 14. You have to buy a ticket to access the stream, but the community conversation will take place for free on the Civic’s Facebook page. All proceeds will go to Connect 2 Be The Change.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated TaKisha Jacobs's last name as TaKisha Jones. It has since been corrected.
Contact Gemma at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo
If you appreciate this kind of journalism on your local NPR station, please support it by donating here.