Content Warning: This story contains references to gun violence.
The new student musical, “Our New Town,” addresses the grim American reality of gun violence through activism, both on and off stage.
“Our New Town” will premiere Friday and Saturday at the Piven Theater Workshop. The show features music by David Dabbon, whose credits include “Beetlejuice” and a libretto by Gabriel Dean and Jessie Dean. The musical is directed by Samara Malik, senior in communications, a former member of The Daily, and produced by Arella Flur, junior in communications.
Malik said she was drawn to the show because of the way it tackles the difficult subject matter and how it focuses on hope, community and advocacy.
âI felt like it showed a vision of the experience of gun violence in America that we often don’t consider,â said Malik.
In an effort to get their message beyond the stage, âOur New Townâ included an activism team, led by Arianna Staton, senior in communications, and Lily Cohen, sophomore from Weinberg., a daily employee. The couple facilitated discussions with the cast about the history of the mass shootings referenced in the musical to allow the cast to grapple with the context and topic of the show.
âOur New Townâ hosted a phone banking and letter writing campaign Friday at Harris Hall. They used Everytown resources for gun safety write to Democrats urging them to pass the Build Back Better Act, which includes funding for community violence response programs. The show is also collecting donations at the door for Family Rescue, an anti-violence and housing support organization.
The musical opens with a vigil organized by a university theater troupe a year after its production of “Our Town” ceased, when an armed attacker locked the doors of the theater and opened fire..
The content of the show carried extra weight for the actors, whose identity as college theater students mirrored that of their characters. Communication manager David Marquette, who embodies one of the protagonists of the series, said the pervasive threat of gun violence in high school had an impact on her character choices.
âIt feels deeply personal (to our actors),â said Marquette. “Even though they are characters, we tell our own story and we express our own feelings about it.”
Throughout the directing process, Malik gave the actors the freedom to infuse their own experiences of gun violence into the characters they portrayed. She said she wanted the production to look like a “community play.”
The production included a team of violence and intimacy, who conducted discussions on actors’ past experiences with gun violence. They also participated in exercises that allowed the actors to part with the heavy content of the show for their own mental well-being.
SESP senior Amy Drake, who was the marketing director of production, said the show seeks to challenge viewers’ beliefs.
âThere is a wide range of political views expressed on the show,â Drake said. “The show’s mission is to help people form their own opinions and attitudes, but ultimately to act in one form or another for whatever they can believe in.”
Malik said she hopes the musical will show students the extent of accessibility of activism.
âNorthwestern is a very liberal campus, but I think sometimes we just fail to act on what we have ‘infographics’ Instagram on,â Malik said. âThere are simple and small steps you can take to create collective change. “
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– Spectrum Theater Company conducts activism training
– Spectrum panel discusses mental health and grief
– Local advocates emphasize intersectional, non-punitive approaches to gun violence prevention