Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence through Performance

In Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence through Performance (TH495/TH667/SI300), students learn and use a variety of applied theatre techniques to partner with local community-based, anti-violence organizations in order to transform the dominant narratives related to gun violence in the United States.


Course Information

Performing Arts

Dana Edell

PARTNER ORGANIZATIONSLouis D. Brown Peace Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital Gun Violence Prevention Center

Alexandra Chéry-Dorrelus, Maudrie Depradine, Dr. Sherri Raftery

Throughout the semester, a diverse group of 13 undergraduate theatre students explored gun violence prevention, as well as support systems for survivors of homicide through an applied theatre lens, building an understanding of how theatre artists have used their skills, creativity and community engagement strategies to address the root causes of gun violence: systemic racism, poverty and toxic masculinity. Through arts-based research, applied theatre activities, community participant story sharings and a long-term devising process, students collaboratively write, create and perform original theatre addressing gun violence and offering calls to action.

Student performers rehearsing in a black box theater

A Look Inside the Co-Creation Process

“Survivors of gun violence are some of the strongest people that I have ever met, and if anything, my voice in a world so divided on gun control laws is needed now more than ever. This class connected us so strongly to members of the greater Boston area community… I hope this class continues to go in the direction of community devising and inspiration.”

Allie Witek, student


Attempting to align the schedules and values of overly busy, theatre production-oriented undergraduate students with the gentle, trust-building practices of community engagement has been the most challenging part of our process and collaboration. Relationships take time to build and trust must be earned and yet we have time crunches within the semester to reach certain learning goals, assignment deadlines, performance expectations and end-of-semester realities. We attempted to move, as activist adrienne maree brown writes, “at the speed of trust” which meant many pivots, changes to the syllabus and the performance structures. Students had the opportunity to move through this journey in real time as we attempted to connect with partners, listen to their stories and then create performances inspired by the experiences of the survivors. We struggled with issues of representation and our own identities and experiences might inform the pieces we create and the stories we feel we have “a right” to tell onstage.


We read and discussed research about gun violence; its root causes, impact and prevention strategies. Additionally, we studied plays and even a young adult novel that addressed gun violence using creative and innovative forms to engage readers and audiences. We invited several guests to our class to help us understand the context and breadth of this issue and its impact on survivors. Dr. Peter Masiakos and Dr. Chana A Sacks, the co-directors of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Gun Violence Prevention Center shared their experiences in the hospital, recent research projects, and the goals and vision for their center. We spoke with Jeffery Solomon and Emily Joy Weiner from Houses on the Moon Theater Company about their production of gUN COUNTRY. And most significantly, we spoke with three survivors from the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute whose loved ones had been murdered. In Zoom breakout rooms, students shared space with survivors and listened to their stories. 


Every Tuesday, a different pair of students presented and facilitated a “Call to Action” for which they identified a specific issue related to gun violence, briefly educated the class about the issue, then facilitated a performance-based intervention or response with the rest of the class giving us tools to take action.

Every Thursday, students in pairs presented and facilitated a “Call to Hope,” for which they researched and shared a positive example of a creative, successful initiative, project, healing, or performance that illuminated forward movement through the gun violence crisis. They then lead the class through an activity that centered wellness, care, connection and/or joy.


In the second half of the semester, students first crafted short performance pieces in groups of 2 or 3, inspired by all the various stories, readings and discussions from the semester. We then collaboratively devised one longer performance that threaded the pieces together and thoughtfully considered how, where, and if the course would share it publicly. 

Additionally, we studied and practiced the interactive performance technique of Forum Theater, a technique from Brazilian theater activist Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed, and used this structure to create short skits addressing issues connected to how hospital staff and doctors relate to gun violence survivors and their families, to be performed at Massachusetts General Hospital as part of an interactive community strategizing session. 

We then performed an excerpt from this longer performance on the Emerson Campus at the semester’s final event on April 26, 2022, which you can view online. We hope that our public performances serve to show examples of how theater can be a tool to help reframe false narratives related to violence in our communities.

Spring 2022 - Theatre Studio Participants

Studio Contact

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Spring 2022 - Theatre Partners