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A Theatrical Uprising Against Gun Violence

April 11, 2013
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Nykemah Warren (15, South Bronx) 9mm America cast member.

I have a pretty awesome job…in fact, it’s the career I’ve wanted to have since I was a kid (besides being the pink Power Ranger). I make theatre. To be more specific, I make political theatre. When I was in college, I was told I’d never have a real career in making political theatre because there is “no money in it” and  I should consider something more practical. Revolution seems like the only practical choice, so despite everything, here I am.

I’m the Founder and Artistic Director of Girl Be Heard, a nonprofit theatre company that empowers young women between the ages of 12 and 21 to tell their stories. Because of our hard-working staff and volunteers, we’ve grown GBH to be a nationally recognized company in just four years. Some of our most memorable experiences have been touring across the country with the United Nation’s Girl Up Foundation, performing at TEDxWomen with Jane Fonda (and giving a TED Talk) and performing at The White House. We’ve made many close celebrity friends and have won many awards but our biggest accomplishment is watching theatre transform the lives of young women and use art to empower them find their voice. Girl Be Heard is proof that the arts are alive as ever, vital and a significant catalyst for social change. Our program works in two phases – first, when a girl joins the company she is enrolled in our “Girlpower workshops”, where we talk about the issues affecting young women whether it’s personal or within the community. When a girl has successfully completed a cycle of “Girlpower” workshops and feels empowered telling her own story she has the option to enroll in our global program, which explores issues facing women across the globe.

I’m elated to be directing Girl Be Heard’s newest show, debuting in this year’s Planet Connections Theatre Festivity called 9mm America. The show is a documentary theatre piece devised from our company member’s direct experiences with gun violence. The girls call the show a “theatrical uprising against gun violence” and share stories that include losing family members to guns, being on the receiving end of “stop and frisk”, hearing gun shots each night while growing up and teaching solutions to violence. We explore gun violence statistics in America and look at our role in the global weapons trade.

9mm America Company Members

9mm America Company Members – (L to R – Nykemah Warren, Jai Raphael, Monica Furman, Dominique Fishback, Melanie Martins, Naeemah Cooks-Faulk, Tiff Roma, Breani Michele, Karen Vigo and Betsy Perez

The cast meets weekly for developmental workshops. Official blocking rehearsals will begin next week. Our developmental process has included weekly writing prompts, news articles, books, guest speakers, conducting interviews and group discussions all with the goal of giving our artists spaces to write their own stories and (in this case) think about what changes need to happen in the larger societal structure to end violence. We’ve also watched (and analyzed) films, documentaries and listened to music. 9mm America also has a significant musical and dance element as it includes original songs, raps and step dancing. The cast has been talking at length about how to incorporate dance and music in a way that tells the story and allows audiences to personally experience the stories without using words.

Something I’ve realized about Girl Be Heard’s work in developing new pieces over the past four years (and watching shows we made in 2008 be performed in 2013) is that because of the nature of the pieces, often dealing with very current issues (ie: sex trafficking, rape in the Congo, status of women in theatre, access to education) our shows are always “works in progress”. There is always up to the minute news and situations changing that cause us to revise, edit, delete or add pieces to make the show current. In fact, unless we can find a solution to these problems, our shows will never be “finished”.

9mm Cast Members - Dominique Fishback, Karen Vigo and Melanie Martins

9mm Cast Members – Dominique Fishback (22, East New York), Karen Vigo (21, South Bronx) and Melanie Martins

In the wake of both the Newtown and Aurora tragedies (among the many other shootings that have happened in between and since), we’ve talked a great deal about violence and for many of our girls, gun violence is something that’s a recurring theme in their lives and because of their locations (most of our cast lives in areas of Brooklyn, Harlem and the South Bronx) it’s not being talked about outside of community circles. 9mm America gives each cast member a chance to share their personal stories, how guns have impacted their lives and also explores the larger problem nationally and internationally. The show is also giving the girls a chance to directly engage with community groups who are working on ending gun violence through meeting with them and attending rallies. After working so in-depth on an issue such as this one, it’s impossible not to become personally involved.

Breani Michele and 9mm America Cast

Breani Michele (17, Canarsie) and 9mm America Cast. In the show Breani raps about her cousin who was shot and killed during a robbery.

Cast member Monica Furman writes, “With this show we seek to use our power to spread awareness. We will seek to uncover the truth behind the bullets, the history behind the glocks and solutions to end the violence.”

I hope you will consider joining us at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity in June for the debut of this exciting new show. Each of the shows will be followed by a talkback (usually hosted by a celebrity) that will give audiences the chance to engage in the material alongside the cast and creative team. Our goal is to bring people together to talk about guns in their own communities and establish creative ways to end the violence.

9mm America
A theatrical uprising against gun violence
Written and Devised by Girl Be Heard Company Members
Featuring: Dominique Fishback, Melanie Martins, Breani Michele, Monica Furman, Karen Vigo, Betsy Perez, Naeemah Cooks-Faulk, Jai Raphael, Tiff Roma, Nykemah Warren
Directed by Ashley Marinaccio
Produced by Jessica Greer Morris
Assistant Directed by Dominique Fishback
Dramaturgy by Sydney Arndt
Stage Managed by Tiffany DeBruyn
Assistant Stage Managed by Desiree Monae
Projection, Media and Sound Design by Gil Sperling
Postcard Design by Ileany Fields
Costume Design by Ileany Fields
Lighting Design by Mitch Ost
Prop Design by Tiff Roma
Set Design by Sparks Grassoy

Part of Planet Connections Theatre Festivity – Visit http://www.planetconnections.org  for Tickets – 
Saturday 6/1 at 6:30pm, Sunday 6/2 at 6:30pm, Tuesday 6/4 at 8:00pm, Friday 6/7 at 4:30pm, Sunday 6/9 at 5:00pm, Wednesday 6/19 at 8:00pm

__9mm-America

Ashley Signature

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. The Mothering Actor permalink
    April 12, 2013 5:57 pm

    Wow amazing – this is so inspiring!!

  2. April 13, 2013 5:29 pm

    BRILLIANT! AWE INSPIRING AND A SAFE HAVEN FULL OF KNOWLEDGE WHICH BRINGS POWER.
    DO YOU ACCEPT DONATIONS?
    KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK!
    ~TERENCE TORRES

  3. April 17, 2013 12:48 pm

    http://igg.me/at/six/x/2720356 Art against Guns.

  4. susan nimmo permalink
    April 24, 2013 5:06 pm

    would love to see this come to Arkansas, somewhere here, some place surely would sponsor.. We need help with our legislators here. they are so uneducated, or corrupted, not sure which.

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