Other theaters use that procedure — locally, for instance, Cara Mia Theatre has done it. But you’re the only company that regularly does this with teenage students. So who are these students and how do you get them to cooperate?
MRB[Laughs.] Well, they actually enjoy the creation process. They get more input than if they were just handed a script. So we hold auditions at various high schools around Dallas. We also hold public auditions. And generally, they are active in their theater programs at their schools. And so they are excited to do something that they can’t do in school.
Mara Richards Bim.
And that something has often been fairly daring topics — like teenage gangs, which you handled in ‘The (out) Siders Project,’ inspired by the classic S. E. Hinton novel, ‘The Outsiders.’ Or racial violence — which you address in your current show, called ‘Shots Fired,’ playing at the Margo Jones Theater in Fair Park. It’s based on the horrendous July shootings of five Dallas police officers.
How did you develop that?
MRBWe chose to interview people who were in some way were affected by the shootings. Bystanders, a civilian who was shot, a doctor who was on call.
A police officer?
MRBA police officer, yes. Yes. And so we brought each of those people in for interviews —
The students interviewed them?
MRBThe students along with myself and my co-director Ruben Carazana sat around and spent about an hour with each one, asked anything and then culled all of that down to a short narrative for each person.
And here is Scarlet Cimillo playing an activist against police violence:
MRB‘It’s a national disgrace how many people are killed by the police in America every year. Approximately a thousand people, that’s about three a day. Think of three people that you love — that’s how many people the police shoot every day.’
Did you also include the students’ own responses?
MRBYes. That was the driving force. Teens don’t often get the opportunity to talk about these kinds of things in a public forum. And so their take and the way that they talk about race is very different than we adults do.
Top: Lucky Lawhorn. Above: Regina Juarez, center, and the ensemble. Photos, courtesy Mara Richards Bim
How so? What was that like?
MRBThey’re much more candid with one another. They’re not afraid of offending each other because they trust that each person in the room is coming from a good place. So there isn’t this defensiveness.
How racially mixed was this group of students? How large?
MRBSo there were eleven in the cast. Six African-Americans. two Latino, three Caucasians — is my math right? Yes. So yeah, and the students also come geographically from all over Dallas.
Did the interviews get emotional or heated?
MRBI would say ’emotional,’ not so much heated. Everyone who agreed to come in knew that they were — you know, they agreed to participate. and so even when the kids had different opinions from the speakers, everyone was very respectable but they did get emotional. Several of them said they haven’t talked about the shootings since that day. And so, you know, there were tears, there were you know — I didn’t realize for the kids, it was emotionally draining for them to sit through interview after interview throughout a day.
How has the response been?
MRBIt’s been overwhelming. I was not really prepared for — you know, I thought we had something good, but we really struck a chord with people. And that’s been very moving and very overwhelming.
Given the response to ‘Shots Fired,’ would you consider bringing it back?
MRBI would love to bring it back, yes. And so, it’s a little challenging working with teenagers because their lives now go on with school. So finding the time to bring it back is going to be a little challenging. But yes, I’m already looking at how we can do that. I’m also looking at publishing the script.
So I don’t think this is the end for ‘Shots Fired.’
Jerome Weeks is the Senior Arts Reporter/Producer for KERA. Previously at The Dallas Morning News, he was the book columnist for 10 years and the drama critic for 10 years before that. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Salon, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, American Theatre and Men’s Vogue magazines. View more about Jerome Weeks.