Pittsburghers add their 'voice' to gun control movement

Performers take on heated issue through readings, music and video


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You could hear the sniffles and see the tears being wiped away during a three-hour program of readings, music and videos held Saturday in solidarity with the March on Washington for Gun Control.

In the wake of recent gun violence and the calls for and against gun control legislation, the "Community Arts Action" at Bricolage's Downtown theater presented emotional works by artists as near as East Liberty and as far as Australia's Alex Broun. His moving "50 Guns" was performed by Lisa Ann Goldsmith, who used plastic cups to represent the 50 weapons of the title as she recounted real-life individual tales of gun deaths from around the globe, building toward a personal tragedy.

The Pittsburgh PACT -- Public Action Communitarian Theatre -- event attracted about a hundred people, 25 of them performers, to the storefront theater on Liberty Avenue. The performers sat on seats and boxes spread across the staging area and moved forward to take their turns during the parade of scenes and readings, stand-up comedy and songs.

Kyle Bostian, a playwright, educator and head of Pittsburgh PACT, pulled the event together in about two weeks after hearing of a similar program that was held simultaneously at Georgetown University by the artistic alliance NoPassport, which provided pieces like Mr. Broun's and others from New York, Los Angeles, Wales and Japan to mingle with local works. To coordinate the effort, Mr. Bostian enlisted award-winning playwright Tammy Ryan, who read an essay on the use of guns in her plays during the three-hour event, and Mark Staley, an adjunct theater instructor at Point Park University.

"We are here to give audiences a cathartic experience around this issue, this epidemic of gun violence, to come together to celebrate, through creative expression, and then have a dialogue that hopefully galvanizes people to go out into their communities and help stem this epidemic of gun violence and death," Mr. Bostian said.

His own short play, "Irony of the Second Degree," written as a response to the shooting in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater last year, was performed in Pittsburgh and in the D.C. program.

Mr. Staley began by telling of a statistic he had read -- that a young black man in Philadelphia had a better chance of surviving Iraq than his own city.

Josh Verbanets and Gab Bonesso provided music, including a rendition of Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks," which includes the catchy chorus: "All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run, outrun my gun./All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run, faster than my bullet."

Solo readers included two recent Post-Gazette Performers of the year, Tami Dixon and Mary Rawson. Emotions ran high in a back-to-back video and reading, first, with local performance artist Vanessa German captured on film by Chris Ivey as she told an East Liberty crowd about the plight of a 12-year-old who brought a gun to school, just to show off a gift from his drug-dealer dad. She was followed by Tameka Cage Conley's electrifying reading of a story about two African-American boys who are great friends, and how their fates are sealed with gunfire.

There was some humor in the program, too, although between the lines of every work was a gun-control message. Most effective was a work out of New York titled "See Dick and Jane Get Ready for School," about a future in which Dick and Jane have to wear body armor to go to school and classes are canceled when a police sniper calls in sick.

Most of the works referenced tragedies to get the point of the evening across. Specifics about "common-sense gun-control legislation" were the main topic of CeaseFirePA's Rob Conroy during post-show discussions that included city Councilman Bill Peduto and One Pittsburgh's Alice Thompson and Glenn Grayson.

Providing the finale of the performances was Hazel Leroy, reading "A Poem for Sandy Hook" by August Schulenburg, a New York playwright/actor. On an evening about artistic activism, the poem hit home with its message of the power of "words like rivers over dusty laws." The poem concludes:

After there are no words

We must make new ones ... Words that don't wait

To make the world

What we say it is

When we say

This is what the world is

To children.

neigh_city

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com.


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