Theatre project addressing gun violence to be hosted by Utah Shakespeare Festival

CEDAR CITY — The Utah Shakespeare Festival has agreed to provide a workshop event for the finalists of a project known as “#ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence” during August.

The #ENOUGH project began accepting submissions of 10-minute plays in January from middle and high school-aged students focused on their experiences related to gun violence.

The project’s producer, Michael Cotey, told Cedar City News the project is an opportunity for students to express their concerns with the issue through a creative outlet and create dialogue within communities.

“The focus of the project is to give a platform for young writers, teenagers between the grades of sixth and 12th grade, to address the issue of gun violence in their lives and their communities,” he said. “Giving them a way to take whatever anxiety or fear or hopes they have over the issue and put it into a creative outlet, and that’s a 10-minute play. The goal is to utilize those plays to lead to community dialogue and having those conversations take place all across the country on a day of nationwide reading, Dec. 14 — which is the eighth anniversary of Sandy Hook.”

Submissions will be accepted through April 20, and basic guidelines include no more than six characters with speaking roles, submissions must be the work of only one author and can be no more than 10 minutes when read aloud.

Cotey said the idea for the project started forming after the shooting in Parkland, Florida. Cotey was in rehearsal in Chicago, Illinois at the time of the shooting and wanted to find a way for theatre arts to be able to respond to mass shootings. Originally, his idea was to commission playwrights for the project, but that did not gain any traction.

“When these tragic events happen, one of the easiest things we can do maybe is find people who already have a platform or a place for their voice and give them more of a platform to write a play,” he said. “It wasn’t until I had perspective on that event and saw what a lot of the kids coming out of Parkland, who were theatre students, what they were doing and really getting people to pay attention to this topic and that it’s not normal that we have 419 mass shootings in our country in 2019 — it became clear after that, that what this project could do is give students who have opinions and a voice on this topic the opportunity to lift them up and also do it in a creative way.”

After submissions are collected and reviewed, six to 10 finalists will be selected. The finalists will have the opportunity to workshop their plays with the Utah Shakespeare Festival in the summer, and their plays will be the ones read during the nationwide reading on Dec. 14.

“We don’t know what students are going to write, and we don’t know what plays are going to be the finalist plays, so there’s a great excitement just to hear their perspective and then to have a chance to talk about it,” Cotey said. “The goal of picking six to 10 finalist plays is that we’re picking sort of a cross-section of the American experience on this, like a kaleidoscope view of this issue from diverse stories across the country.”

Although the finalists’ plays will be the main focus of the nationwide reading, Cotey wants to encourage communities to also highlight local submissions.

“We’re also encouraging theatres and schools and community organizations that do a reading on Dec. 14 to also lift up and bring focus to local submissions, to voices within a community,” he said. “It’s just as important, if not more so in a way, for that community to hear from the young people in their community as well as get perspective of what’s going on in communities that are similar or very different from that one.”

Cotey also emphasized the importance of the dialogue he hopes to encourage through the project.

“Going from a world where it felt like these events were sort of earth-shattering, to it almost feeling like the ground on which we stand is made of these kind of events — I’m interested to hear what these students have to say,” he said. “The really important element of this project is to create dialogue and that each of those conversations that’s going to happen is going to be unique to that community. Because the way Chicago needs to talk about gun violence and has experienced gun violence is different than somewhere in the middle of Utah or in the middle of Nebraska or where else.”

Cotey said the project is not intended to take a stance on gun violence or any solutions to the number of mass shootings occurring in America.

“If anything where we hope the answers come from, are from the stories of the students themselves,” he said.

To submit a play for consideration or find out more information about the project, visit www.enoughplays.com.