Theatre activism tackles gun violence in national campaign


Brenda Echeverria, Arts & Rec Editor

No one ever thinks it could happen to them, until it does. It’s all a matter of probability, chance and statistics.

The play, “Natural Shocks,” by Lauren Gunderson, tackled these topics as part of a national campaign of theatre activism against gun violence, and it was performed April 20 by Kymberly Mellen in Barnett Theatre.  

“I think it’s really helpful to have a work of art be the focal point for discussion, because then you could speak passionately, but not from your own lived experience,” said Professor Mellen who played the sole actress in the play. “People tend to not get so personally offended when you have a reference point.

The goal of the play was to start a nationwide conversation on gun violence.

Gunderson made her play available to all regional and community theaters, colleges and high schools free of royalties so that it could be produced the weekend of April 20. The date which was intentionally chosen to coincide with the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting and National School Walkout Day.

In exchange, Gunderson asked that money be raised either through entry tickets or by donations at the door, to address gun violence.

“What this piece does is it links the statistics of people who purchase firearms for their own personal defense, like in situations of domestic abuse, thinking that it will be an added measure of protection and it links that statistically to how often the same women are killed by the weapons they purchase by their abusers. And how often violence against women is linked to gun violence.” said Professor Mellen.

Her role was to play Angela, a middle aged woman waiting out a tornado in her basement, in an informal staged reading style that was both funny and heartbreaking.

Angela, who is described as “funny,” “smart” and “self-deprecating” by Gunderson, slowly brings the realities of gun violence into light through a series of revelations and confessions.

Mellen hopes that the staged reading created a sense of empathy and awareness for victims of gun violence.

“The whole purpose of theatre is to create empathy with people you don’t think you have any connection to, so I hope that if students see something like this they’ll go see more theatre because the point of theatre is to build empathy for each other.” Mellen said.

UW-Whitewater student Kathleen Martin was a student who felt connected to the play and was glad to see it performed on campus.

“I think it’s really important, especially in our school because I know a few months ago we had some scares with the graffiti stuff and it’s just really prevalent with students today,” Martin said. “We are concerned about it and I know that specifically with my friends, we’ve had conversations a lot this past year about the fear of shootings and going to school.”

Martin referenced a recent issue of graffiti around campus that emerged last month with the word “soon” being tagged on building walls. The issue had some people spooked because of the much larger issue of gun violence that has recently been seen around the country.

“I think most people wonder why this is happening, like we are supposed to be nice and we’re supposed to be kind, but there is so much not being done for mental health,” Martin said. “It’s just so important that people get the support and help they need.”

Although progress on ending gun violence is slow in the country, Martin is just glad to see the positive impact that having this staged reading will have on sparking a conversation about an important issue.

“I’m just glad that our school was able to participate in this and I could come see it even though it is a touchy subject,” Martin said. “For a lot of us it may be triggering, but it’s still really important to keep the conversation going because that’s the only way that you can spark a change.”