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


Dana Edell

PARTNER ORGANIZATIONSLouis D. Brown Peace Institute, Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, The Center for Teen Empowerment

Damien Leach, Angelica Fontes, Sanye Gonzalez

Students learn how theatre artists have used their skills and creativity to address root causes of gun violence, such as systemic racism, poverty, and toxic masculinity. Students study and practice a variety of applied theatre techniques, including Theater of the Oppressed, devised performance, and theater in education. Through arts-based research, applied theatre activities, community participant interviews, personal reflection, and a long-term devising process, students write, create and perform original, trauma-informed, collaborative theatre. This course requires students to be flexible, creative, and patient as we respond to the needs and desires of our partners. The syllabus and class projects might evolve and shift throughout the semester as we foster deeper connections with our community partners in order to create and implement mutually beneficial projects.

Protesters with anti-gun-violence signs on the Boston Common

A Look Inside the Co-Creation Process

“Through my role in the classroom, I’ve been able to share my lived and professional experience directly tied to the issue of gun violence and its root causes. I was able to share my expertise and that of the Coalition and our member organizations by providing insight regarding our communities across the Commonwealth impacted by gun violence.” 

Angelica Fontes, learning partner

Part of what makes all Social Impact Studios unique is the opportunity they afford Emerson students to apply their learnings outside of the classroom. This semester’s theatre studio – taught by Dana Edell, with Community Learning Partners from Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and the Center for Teen Empowerment – is a great example, with multiple community-centered projects utilizing the students’ theatrical skill sets toward direct action protests and community-building, all in service of transforming narratives of gun violence here in Boston. 


The students took part in the March For Our Lives rally on Saturday, March 25 on the Boston Common, a protest calling for stricter gun laws in the U.S., where the students performed a co-created poetry and movement piece and led an interactive demonstration with other protest participants. According to the March for Our Lives website, the protest was part of a “youth-led movement dedicated to promoting civic engagement, education, and direct action by youth to eliminate the epidemic of gun violence.” 


As part of the engagement and learning process with community partners, the students facilitated a creative workshop on Wednesday, April 13 with the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute (LDBPI) to support the transformation of the first of seven “Peace Poles," which are telephone poles located along the route of the organization’s Mothers Day Walk for Peace fundraiser in Dorchester. The decoration of each pole is inspired by one of the seven Principles of Peace, which guide LDBPI’s work : Love, Unity, Faith, Hope, Courage, Justice, and Forgiveness.

"The event created a space for participants to design ribbons which will be weaved together to create a Unity Pole, which will be beautifully displayed in Dorchester. As a class, we wanted to create an opening and closing activity that would hopefully spark some creativity and allow us all to connect with one another. We were inspired by the Peace Institute's seven principles of peace and the Institute's practice of consistently checking in with these principles, so we created an interactive Peace Principles check in, which involves knotting seven pieces of yarn, and also involved some story sharing practices around each principle. As the participants designed their ribbons, we collected statements about their connection to the word Unity."

Camille Cappello, Graduate Student, Applied Theatre


“I’ve been really excited to work on a curriculum project with some of the students in our class. Our goal with this project was to create something that would last, and that people could utilize as a resource. This drama-based curriculum’s goal is to give young people a space to discuss their understanding and the impacts of violence on themselves and their communities.”

Katie Sibley, Graduate Student


The Studio's work culminated at Peace in Process, a collective event on May 2 which celebrated the work of all of the spring 2023 Social Impact Studios. The theatre studio presented a devised performance entitled UNITY, inspired by the group's work with the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute's Principles of Peace, and the text was generated collaboratively:

"We had these prompts on all these chairs around the room, and we all went around and writing one line at a time to create poems that shared all of our voices. And then we took all of those many poems and then weaved those together to create a final product — so it was really a product of unity amongst us as artists."

Joye Prince, Graduate Student, Applied Theatre

Spring 2023 - Theatre Studio Participants

Studio Contact

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Spring 2023 - Theatre Partners