Columbia students participate in plays centered on the gun violence epidemic in the US

By Kristen Gesicki, Staff Reporter

Lucas Martinez

There have been 2,801 shooting incidents in Chicago in 2021, an 11% increase from the 2,519 at this time last year, according to Chicago Police Department data released Oct. 6.

Now, more than 20 Columbia acting and musical theatre students are working with Tectonic Theater Project members Barbara Pitts McAdams and Jimmy Maize to direct two devised plays and produce a series of podcasts about America’s gun violence epidemic and youth activism.

The #HereToo productions have been performed by students at various U.S. colleges since August 2019. Its next stop: Columbia, where students have been working alongside Pitts McAdams and Maize to interview, research and write the scripts for the plays and podcasts.

The first play, titled “American Origami,” is adapted from photographer Andres Gonzalez’s photo book, consisting of six years of photographic research of mass shootings in U.S. schools. Maize is the director and book adaptor for “American Origami.”

“American Origami” focuses on nine interviews about people’s experiences with school shootings, with each interview performed by one of nine Columbia actors.

“The main thing that I think we are trying to [get] across is that [gun violence] can happen to anyone unless we find a solution to stop it,” said Emma Fulmer, a sophomore acting major and devising cast member with “American Origami.” “It seems like big legislatures and lawmakers aren’t going to do it themselves, so who has to do it? It has to be the kids, the college students; it has to be the survivors or the people who are connected to the survivors.” 

Gonzalez interviewed Kristina Anderson, a college student and survivor who was shot three times during the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, for the book.

Anderson spoke to Gonzalez about when photographers at the scene of the shooting took a picture of Anderson being taken away unconscious by paramedics and used it without her consent on a number of news sites.

“Kristina’s main talking point is about how that photo affected her and how all these recollections of the media really change the lives of these survivors, even after the tragedy that has happened,” Fulmer said.

Fulmer is the actor portraying Anderson’s story in “American Origami.”

The second play is titled “#HereToo,” performed by 15 Columbia students, whose aim is to amplify youth activists combating the gun violence epidemic. Pitts McAdams is the lead deviser and co-director for “#HereToo,” alongside senior directing student Ashley Keys.

“My goal with these productions of ‘#HereToo,’ which change wherever we go, is that we model for people who see the play, ‘Oh, that’s a way to be an activist, and that’s a different way to be an activist,'” Pitts McAdams said.

The #HereToo project began in 2018 and added “American Origami” in June 2020.

Maize said Gonzalez reached out to the Tectonic Theater Project in March 2020 when he was in the planning phase for his exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Photography. Gonzalez and Karen Irvine, the chief curator at MoCP, wanted to commission a theatre performance collaboration between the Photography and Theatre departments.

Both plays will be performed Oct. 13-21 at The Getz Theatre, 72 E. 11th Street. Tickets are available for $10-$15. “American Origami” is the first act, which will be followed by “#HereToo” after an intermission.

Caden Marshall, a senior musical theatre and ASL-English interpretation double major, is a devising cast member for “#HereToo.” Marshall said the casts will be implementing trigger warnings along with QR codes that include information about activists involved, data and statistics used in the plays and information on how to become involved in gun violence activism.

Chloe Bassett, a senior acting major, is a devising cast member in “#HereToo.” Bassett explained the significance of Columbia being the next college to perform the #HereToo project.

“It’s important that it came to Columbia because there are a lot of issues to be discussed and brought to light and also a lot of activists to elevate and support,” Bassett said.

Moriah Gilman, a junior musical theatre major and devising cast member, co-created a podcast for the project that can be heard on Columbia’s own WCRX radio, plus Spotify and Apple Music, titled “#HereToo.”

Gilman said the podcast was started by students at Penn State University, and Pitts McAdams asked if Columbia students would like to continue the podcast.

“Over the summer, a lot of the cast reached out to activists in and around the Chicago area [who] deal with gun violence activism,” said Anna Johnson, a sophomore musical theatre major, devising cast member for the #HereToo play and co-creator of the “#HereToo” podcast. “We interviewed activists and compiled a list of interviews. We have the audio recordings for our podcast, and we transcribed them to make a loose script for the show.”

Each episode will be hosted by a different Columbia student who has interviewed a Chicago youth activist. The first episode of the podcast was released on Sunday, Oct. 3.

For more information about the “#HereToo” podcast and the plays “#HereToo” and “American Origami,” visit the #HereToo project’s Instagram account, website and collection of WCRX podcasts