One year before the 2024 presidential election, Chicago’s Goodman Theatre will be among dozens of performing arts organizations nationwide zeroing in on a single issue: gun violence.
Now in its third year, the event on Monday will present six 10-minute plays about gun violence in America, all written by teens.
“Regardless of an audience member’s age … I think we can consider what it has been like for these young people to grow up in a post-Columbine world,” said Neena Arndt, one of the directors for the Goodman readings. “Their whole life, they’ve had drills in school and it’s been a part of daily life … in a way that it wasn’t for previous generations.”
The initiative — ENOUGH!: Plays to End Gun Violence — started in 2019, led by Michael Cotey, a Chicago-based producer and director who was inspired by the youth-led activism that followed the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. The program passes the mic to young people and, by staging the same event across the country on the same day at roughly the same time, encourages audiences nationwide to listen to them. In Chicago, the six plays will be read by seven local actors, including Adhana Reid, who also participated in the event last year at the Goodman.
“Unfortunately, things are not changing fast enough, so any chance that I get that I can lend my voice to this issue that quite literally affects everyone — no one is spared from this — that’s why, as much as I can do, I really hope I can help,” Reid said, who added that she is sometimes shocked by the painful and poignant work of the young playwrights. “These children are having to face such big things at such a young age. Something I experienced when I was younger has only gotten worse.”
Playwright Niarra C. Bell, whose work The Smiles Behind focuses on a Black child’s encounter with a police officer, said it’s surreal to have professional stage actors reading her words. On Monday, the plays will be performed at venues such as high schools and community theaters to vaunted spaces including the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta.
“I get chills every time I think about it,” the 18-year-old Virginia native said. She’s hopeful the words will spur political action and real change.
“I think the fact that it’s one year before the election, really gives the opportunity for politicians and everyone to take a step back and think … I need gun violence to be a topic every day, because I hear about it, and I feel the impact of it every single day,” she said.
This year’s works, selected from 244 entries nationwide by a panel of dramatists, range in subject matter from surviving a school shooting to police violence to how 911 operators respond to calls for help. Director Neena Arndt said the variety in the writing is the show’s strength.
“They really approach the issue in incredibly different ways,” she said.
Unlike in the past, none of this year’s playwrights are Chicagoans, but Arndt said the Goodman — which has also participated in 2022 and 2020, the other two years the program has run — is incorporating a local angle off stage. At Monday’s event, the theater will display quilts from the organization Faces not Forgotten, featuring portraits of children and young adults from Chicago who have been victims of gun violence.
“This is, of course, a national event, but the quilts I think will help make the event locally relevant,” Arndt said. “Because gun violence is especially a pervasive issue in the city of Chicago.”
Arts4Impact will also display work that visually represents the number of young people killed by guns since the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.
If you go: ENOUGH!: Plays to End Gun Violence, 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 6, at the Goodman Theater’s Alice Center, 170 N. Dearborn St. Free, but pre-registration required.
CORRECTION: The organization Arts4Impact was incorrectly spelled in an earlier version of this story.
Courtney Kueppers is a digital producer/reporter at WBEZ.