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Students rehearse “24 Gun Control Plays.” COURTESY STEVE MCCARTHY

24 Gun Control Plays
Monday, Dec. 9, 7 p.m.
Presented by the BA Theatre Studies First Year Class
Panel discussion with
Jaime Bedrin, adjunct faculty member, Montclair State School of Communication & Media and member of Moms Demand Action

Heather Silvestri, volunteer, Sandy Hook Promise
Rabbi Elliott Tepperman, Bnai Keshet, who worked on the the recent NJ executive order on gun manufacturers with the faith based organization New Jersey Together
SCOMM Presentation Hall 1040
Montclair State University, 1 Normal Ave.
Free.

For more information, email braterj@montclair.edu

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

Just last week there was a gun scare at Montclair High School. Students there have staged walkouts for gun control. Clearly, young people are invested in this issue.

At Montclair State University, first-year theater students will present readings of plays about gun control next week.

The project is part of a new student seminar on what college students need to know.

Some of what first-year theater students have to learn are the things every first-year college student needs to learn: how to do research in the library. 

And they also need to know how theater connects to the world, and why it matters.

For theater and dance assistant professor Jessica Brater, that means working on plays about gun control for autumn 2019.

“24 Gun Control Plays” will be presented, as staged readings, by the first-year BA Theater Studies class on Monday, Dec. 9.

The short plays are by 24 professional writers, compiled by acclaimed playwright Caridad Svitch.

“This is the kind of project the first-year students respond to,” Brater said. Her son, who is now in first grade, came home after his first week of Kindergarten and asked about the active shooter drill he’d had in school.

“Who would be coming into the school? What would he look like? What would the principal be doing? 

“It was incomprehensible to have to be having a conversation like this with children. This generation of college students grew up with it,” she said. Ultimately she hopes the project will translate that experience to other people. “It’s good to start with something they are passionate about.”

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The plays are very short. The 35 or so BA students dove into them right away, and will present 10, she said. 

Every department has a new student seminar. Brater always felt strongly that in theater and dance, the seminar is an opportunity to create community. It is a once-a-week, one-credit class. She teaches one section and department chair Randy Mugleston teaches the other.

It fits with the mission of the BA program as a whole, which is less to create professional performers (though many of the students will perform in the plays) than join theater with other humanistic studies.

“The training they are getting as interdisciplinary thinkers will help them use their approach to thinking about theater to the way that theater intersects with politics, with social issues, literature and other forms of art and history,” Brater said. “We tie into that the responsibility of college educators to train students not only in their discipline but as citizens. This program has a focus on the artist as citizen.” 

Students are encouraged to take classes across the discipline and theater field. Community impact is a focus of what students learn: they take classes on performing playwrights of color, on children’s theater, on theater as citizenship. They can obtain a teaching certificate as part of their four years, by taking classes at the Center of Pedagogy.

GUN CONTROL PLAYS 

Students took the lead on organizing the readings and forming groups to present them, Brater said. They were alerted early in the semester about the project, and given the script. Students could then decide for themselves what to do: some students direct or came up with minimalist props or costumes, but most are eager to perform, Brater said: “I left it up to them. They cast themselves. I want them to feel they have ownership over the project.”

A panel discussion will follow the readings.

The way the presentation is built into the syllabus is that there are two more meetings after the performance of “24 Gun Control Plays,” so students will have a chance to share and receive feedback.

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Jessica Brater, assistant professor of theater and dance at MSU, wants first-year students to connect their studies to the world around them. COURTESY JESSICA BRATER

Students have done group projects before about issues, but this is the first time the project has been built into the new student reading series. A reading series called “Acts of Resistance” offered a play by Native American playwright Larissa Fasthorse last year titled “The Thanksgiving Play.” Kaitlin Stillwell, formerly dramaturg of Luna Stage, co-curates the Acts of Resistance series, and has been active in this program as well.

Students have also done autobiographical plays. “This is the first time, with the first year, we have taken on something quite so ambitious emotionally,” Brater said. “When I told them about it initially, they seemed to feel a big responsibility. Many of them, it was clear, had a strong emotional impact around it.”

Ultimately the project is not only about gun control, but also about theater itself, Brater said. “I hope they will have an understanding of the power of theater to shine a light on the crucial social and political issues that affect students directly.”

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