Time to Say #ENOUGH
By Ryan Albrechtson
Photo Credit: Michael Cotey
“I finally hit my personal limit of my own inaction.”
Michael Cotey, a “Chicago-based, Milwaukee-bred theatre-maker,” is ready to take a stand. The UWM grad, who ran Youngblood Theatre Company in Milwaukee for several years and has worked with many of the local theatres and organizations, now wears the hat of producer of #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence.
“I was assisting at the Goodman Theatre last year when the Parkland shooting happened,” said Cotey. “I remember thinking at the time, ‘Every time something like this happens I feel two things. I feel complete rage about it. And I also just feel helpless.’ I’m sick of feeling both of those things.”
Cotey’s idea for #ENOUGH is based on Tectonic Theater Project’s The Laramie Project. When the play, which centers around the town of Laramie after a young man is murdered for being gay, was first written, Tectonic Theater Project invited theatres from all over the country to perform a reading on the same night. Theatres of all sizes participated, some large regional companies and some smaller groups (like Cotey’s Youngblood Theatre.) He decided he’d like to try to do something similar.
“The original idea was to get ten playwrights to each write a short play in response to gun violence,” said Cotey. “It was an exciting idea for a little while but it never gained any traction... I couldn’t figure out at first why. I asked a mentor of mine what he thought of the program. He said ‘You know, the meaning behind the idea is great. But the idea itself is just kind of boring... We do this all of the time, we find people who already have a platform and give them another platform.’ And he was absolutely right.”
This conversation sparked Cotey to use this new platform to give a voice to a different group: the students of today, those who are most affected by the issue. “What was really inspiring to me after Parkland was the youth,” said Cotey. “The way young people were standing up and being leaders and taking charge of the situation to make sure they are heard. That’s when it clicked for me, what this project needed to be… I hear the anxieties and fears and frustrations and anger that these students have but have nowhere to go with. That’s who deserves this platform.”
Middle schoolers and high schoolers are encouraged to submit a short play on the topic of gun violence between January 1 and April 20. Over the summer, a panel of critically acclaimed playwrights will review the plays and pick 6-10 finalists. These playwrights include Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winners such as Lauren Gunderson and David Henry Hwang. The students whose plays are chosen will spend a week at the Utah Shakespeare Festival workshopping their plays, which will then all be curated together into a script.
On December 14th - the eighth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting - theatres all over the country will have the opportunity to host a reading of these plays at no charge. “The goal is that these plays will work in conversation with one another and offer a kaleidoscopic view of the issue,” said Cotey. ”They won’t all be plays about gun violence in one form or another, but instead will have a diverse look at the issue.”
Students can learn, and submit their pieces, now through April 20, 2020 at enoughplays.com. There are also a variety of resources for teachers, schools, and theatres that would like to be involved.