What do we do about gun violence? That’s the question 20 or so high school students from Dallas’ Cry Havoc Theater Company set out to answer. They wanted to begin a conversation about guns and gun ownership with people involved in the debate surrounding one of the most divisive issues in our country.
This exploration resulted in a documentary-style theater piece called Babel. The Elevator Project, which brings small and emerging Dallas-based arts groups into Arts District performance spaces, chose Babel for its current season. It opened Thursday at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Hamon Hall.
In Hamon Hall, shoes hang from floor to ceiling and surround a casket in the room’s center. Cry Havoc created this large-scale art installation known as "The Cenotaph" as a memorial to honor victims of gun violence. The installation will serve as a backdrop for Babel.
Babel, part documentary and part dramatic presentation, consists entirely of words collected by students during their interviews with voices on multiple sides of the debate over gun ownership and gun violence.
Mara Richards Bim, Cry Havoc’s director and founder, conceived this project during the course of making the company’s previous documentary play, Shots Fired, which dealt with the Dallas police shootings in 2016.
“The issue of guns just kept coming up,” Bim says.
She presented the idea to her young actors, a group mainly made up of DISD students, and they soon began to research the heavy topic.
Over spring break, eight of the students traveled to Connecticut and interviewed parents whose children were killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. They prepared for those meetings by watching a documentary about the Sandy Hook shooting, which one student found extremely upsetting.
“Somehow I was able to hold it together when I spoke to the parents in person, but I just sobbed as I watched the video," Regina Juarez says.
After that, the students went to Washington, D.C., to interview Sens. John Cornyn and Chris Murphy, who proposed legislation to enforce existing criminal background checks after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting — which occurred during the preparation for Babel. The students came away from those meetings thinking that the solution to gun violence won’t come from politicians.
“Politicians care about their position and what group will support them," Lillie Davidson says. "They do not care about the lives of individual Americans.”
When the Cry Havoc students returned to Dallas, they visited a gun range. In order to attend the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas in May, Bim paid the $40 registration fee for every student to join the NRA.
The students who attended heard speakers, including President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Then they began interviewing attendees about guns in America and Second Amendment rights. Students found that many of the people they spoke to answered with points from convention speeches that blamed violent video games, gun-free zones and lack of religion in schools for the increase in mass shootings.
The students teamed up in pairs for interviews — one student of color and one white student. Groups found that many NRA attendees refused to look at or respond to the students of color and instead addressed answers to the white students. On the third day, security guards overheard the students in conversation with one another using the phrase "mass-shooting," and because they had microphones and no press credentials, they were escorted out of the convention center.
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The docudrama Babel recounts the students' experiences making the documentary alongside those of many others whose lives have been impacted by guns. It contains words taken from the more than 100 hours of tape the students collected, including interviews and their reflections during six months of asking, “What do we do about gun violence?”
After working on Babel, one student who knows three people who have been victims of gun violence says she wonders why these shootings are becoming normal.
“We’ve just gotten careless; we don’t pay attention to how we treat things or how we treat one another," Trinity Gordon says.