The June 2016 shooting in Orlando was the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter, and the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in the history of the United States. (Photo: Miłość Nie Wyklucza via Wikipedia)
The June 2016 shooting in Orlando was the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter, and the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in the history of the United States. (Photo: Miłość Nie Wyklucza via Wikipedia)

Group at UA Joins Theater Response to Orlando Shooting

A group of students in the UA School of Theatre, Film and Television is presenting "After Orlando," a reading of three-minute plays written in response to the Pulse nightclub shootings — and what has happened nationally in the aftermath.
Nov. 28, 2016
What: 
After Orlando: An International Theatre Action in Response to the Pulse Nightclub Shooting
When: 
Monday, Dec. 5, at 7:30 p.m.
Where: 
Harold Dixon Directing Studio, Room 116 of the Drama Addition, 1025 N. Olive Ave.
Still processing what happened at Pulse nightclub, and participating in "After Orlando," Fly Steffens (far left) says: "I feel like I don't know what I am supposed to do or say. But this is a process of looking at the characters and experiences and starting to figure out what I can do and what I can say. It feels like a beginning in a way that other pieces of theater don't. I just hope people come away with something and really start a process of talking about these things."
Still processing what happened at Pulse nightclub, and participating in "After Orlando," Fly Steffens (far left) says: "I feel like I don't know what I am supposed to do or say. But this is a process of looking at the characters and experiences and starting to figure out what I can do and what I can say. It feels like a beginning in a way that other pieces of theater don't. I just hope people come away with something and really start a process of talking about these things."

Most of us have heard or spoken similar words:

Before you go, close the windows.

Lock the door when you go.

Lock and check the door before you go, and click it shut all the way.

Detailed in "Departure," a short play by Canadian playwright and filmmaker Jordan Tannahill to be presented at the University of Arizona, those are meant to be text messages from "a mother or lover." The powerfully foreboding messages are being sent to someone bound for Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, leading up to the moment when Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a hate crime and act of terrorism last June 12. Mateen also died.

Tannahill's piece is one of dozens included in "After Orlando," an international theater action put in motion as a response to the mass shooting.

Organized by Missing Bolts Productions and NoPassport Theatre Alliance and Press, playwrights, dramaturges and theater makers from around the world were invited to produce short, three-minute plays in response to the Pulse shootings. Within months of the shooting, and in a way fairly unique to theater, nearly 80 pieces were selected and are being presented at colleges, universities, studios and theater companies — including the UA — throughout the United States and in the United Kingdom.

"Rapid response is the concept," said Elaine Romero, assistant professor in the UA School of Theatre, Film and Television. "When something happens in the country, the plays can't go through long-term development in order to respond to what is happening. It's a way to get a lot of artists involved in a quick amount of time.

"Our country is still sitting with this event, and there is wisdom in sitting with things — that's art. By sitting with things, we are in this together and can feel it together," said Romero, whose piece, "Orlando," was chosen and already has been read in Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, London and elsewhere. "As painful as this project is, it has been very exciting to be part of this movement."

At the UA, led by Romero, several undergraduate and graduate students curated 17 pieces for a Dec. 5 stage reading. The 7:30 p.m. event, which is free and open to all, will be held in the Harold Dixon Directing Studio, Room 116 of the Drama Addition, 1025 N. Olive Ave.

"Departure" is universal, said Vanisha Pierce, a first-year Master of Fine Arts student in the UA's generative dramaturgy program. No matter a person's background, experience, political affiliation or other identifier, it is easy to connect with that feeling of protection and the urging by a loved one to make sure the stove is turned off or that the windows are closed. There is a goodbye before leaving, and a hug and a kiss upon returning.

"These are all of the little things you try to do to build this refuge, a safe place," said Pierce, a mother of a 2-year-old and one of eight School of Theatre, Film and Television students who will read during the event at the UA. "It speaks to me as a mother, because that's what I do to my little girl every day."

Other pieces are more specific to context and experience.

The UA group will present "And Then the Music ..." by E.M. Lewis, which opens with the happy and joyful early morning energy in the nightclub, just as the first gunshots are heard.

"The Human Traces" by Anders Lustgarten follows the professionals who are tasked with surveying the scene and identifying bodies after the shooting. 

"Fun Fact" by Neil LaBute describes two people comparing the scale of different tragedies. Alex Ross, a theatre arts junior, said the piece is especially accessible as it speaks to a common post-tragedy practice.

"One person is explaining that it is one of the worst shootings in history, and the other is like, 'Well, it's not a war.' The question becomes: Who has suffered the greater tragedy?" Ross said. "But what we are saying is that talking about current tragedies does not undermine what happened before. It is a way of saying this is what is happening now, and it is terribly shocking. So it does a good job helping people talk about how tragedy, and also about how they may be complicit."

Another choice, "The Bigger Picture" by Matthew Paul Olmos, dramatizes the case of an auction of an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle in Florida, which was planned prior to the Pulse shooting and held a week after the shootings. Claire Zhuang, a first-year Master of Fine Arts student in the UA's generative dramaturgy program, said she chose to direct the piece because she wanted to explore the challenge of being a gun-shop owner grappling with the aftermath of the shooting.

"It has a lot of complexities and nuances. We really get a sense of how multifaceted things are in the aftermath of the event," Zhuang said. "We tried to include a variety of people. Having different voices was important to us."

In that way, "After Orlando" is part reflection, part awareness, part tribute and part call-to-action.

"The way we form our communities, whether in the University or online or in neighborhoods, it is very easy to get stuck at the end of your nose and to focus on only what you can touch," said Fly Steffens, a first-year Master of Fine Arts student in the UA's generative dramaturgy program.

"But that's not how the world is," Steffens said. "It is important to see beyond your mirror and to stop listening to the echo chamber. There are all these fault lines in communities, and there is no healing if there is no conversation."

The UA group also chose "(Ob)scene" by Jeff McMahon, presumably written from the perspective of the shooter.

"He's giving us an inside tour of his psyche and thought process, why he felt compelled to do it. He's making a choice because he feels it is the only way he can be heard because he never had a safe space to express himself," Pierce said. "It is very powerful. Beautifully written with powerful metaphors and strong imagery. It is chilling. It gave me a chill."

Pierce said the piece, no matter how challenging, is important. It gives notice to Mateen's personal struggle, as it was subsequently determined that he frequently visited Pulse and may have been struggling with his own sexuality. Also, it reaffirms consequences associated with societal and self denial, Pierce said.

"The one thing I hope for is to show the LGBT-plus community as well as the Hispanic and African-American communities that we are here, and we are not going anywhere," Pierce said. "We are here to support, acknowledge and celebrate who people are."

Steffens also explained that, while emotionally charged, the production also comes with a certain lightness at times.

"There are these moments that are really funny, and I think we connected to those and wanted to hold on to those moments," Steffens said. "Even if the humor is dark, and even if we laughed and felt uncomfortable, that is an important part of the human experience, too. So, there are happy moments, there are moments of love, there are moments of laughter. All of that is important."