Dallas — In Shots Fired, a work of documentary theater from Cry Havoc Theater Company, the 11 teens who created the piece with co-directors Mara Richards Bim and Ruben Carrazana end each interview segment with a question important to the iGeneration: “Will you take a selfie with us?”
The subjects who gladly agree include Mark Hughes, Shetamia Taylor, and Dr. Brian Williams. The actual selfies they took flash on the back wall, with the sound of a cellphone camera clicking, as the ensemble recreates each pose.
You might recognize those names from the news after the sniper attacks in downtown Dallas on July 7, 2016, that killed four police officers and a DART office, and wounded others. Taylor was the civilian shot in the leg; Hughes the black man legally open-carrying who was wrongly accused of being the shooter on social media, by the Dallas Police Deparment; and Williams a surgeon on the Parkland Hospital team that night, who later gave a powerful speech about being a black man in America. (Hughes was at the performance I attended.)
Others interviewed for Shots Fired include local activist and community organizer John Fullinwider; actor Abel Flores, who was at the peaceful #blacklivesmatter protest where the shootings happened and has participated in arts equity activism; and Will Richey, a local performance curator who runs DaVerse Lounge, a youth spoken word event that had a showcase the night of the shootings, not far away at LIFE in Deep Ellum—and with some of these kids participating.
The selfie is important because it’s the most popular way in which people, notably those who probably don’t remember a time before smartphones, document that something happened. Except in this case, the 11 interviewers who come from six area high schoolers (Scarlet Cimillo, Trinity Gordon, Regina Juarez, Michaela Langford, Lucky Lawhorn II, Cara Lawson, Vincent McGrath, De’Aveyon Murphy, Cedrick Osagie, Elijah Rice, Stakiah Washington), are also documenting via a more meaningful format: making art.
The result, Shots Fired, is another remarkable entry from a theater company that only has, with this show, four productions under its belt. If last year’s devised work Shut Up and Listen implored adults to stop lecturing and try to understand these kids thoughts, dreams and fears, Shots Fired ensures that not only do they have something to say, they can respond to a local event of national significance with curiosity, intelligence and creativity.
I won’t spoil the clever way in which it is staged at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park, but let’s just say that it’s interactive with the audience, but not obtrusive. They use their interviews to get at big issues brought up by the shootings: Black Lives Matter, the clear majority of good cops vs. the much smaller number of bad ones, how the gunman was killed with the bomb, and what it means to rage against the machine. Remember, just days before the tragedy there were police shootings of black men in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, which sparked the Dallas demonstration.
They also play themselves and interject their process of creating the piece you’re watching into the work. They reference Anna Deavere Smith and James Baldwin, and the influence of Smith’s work as well as that of Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project or Sarah Jones is clear. In Shots Fired, the performers don’t attempt to evoke their subjects through voices or characterization—but rather relate their words in a conversational manner. It’s an intriguing overlap of verbatim, devised and protest theater.
That fact that it comes from high school kids says much about Bim’s vision for this company. The city is taking notice; Cry Havoc has only been giving public performances for a year and a half, and has already received its first TACA grant, which is huge. Also credit the collaboration of professionals Emily Bernet (choreography), John M. Flores (sound) and Aaron Johansen (lighting).
For those of us disheartened by the election and Republicans’ haste to strip millions of life-saving insurance and EQUAL rights—not “special” or “extra” rights—gained by LGBT and other Americans, it’s encouraging to see this generation engaging in larger conversations, asking questions and making art.
Selfies are just one small component.