51,321 incidences of gun violence in the U.S. this year alone.
298 mass shootings.
12,841 lives lost.
That’s the number of laws Congress has passed to prevent these tragedies that happen daily. Every single day, we lose mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters to gun violence. We lose teachers and students, friends, and neighbors to senseless shootings that can be prevented with legislation that places lives over dollars. When will we move the needle forward on gun control? When will we finally rally together enough Americans who agree that enough is enough? The Bill of Rights grants us unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but instead, we’re living in fear that those rights will be infringed upon by gun violence that lurks outside our doors and plagues our communities. Unfortunately, it’s always “too soon” to politicize shootings with insensitive talk about policy changes that could save lives.
The Conciliation Project realizes that there’s never a “right time” to have that uncomfortable conversation; there may never come a time when citizens on both sides of the political spectrum agree to discuss this thing called the 2nd Amendment. So, they’re creating that opportunity, and forcing the conversation in their newest production: Locked & Loaded: a story in parts and pieces.
Founded in 2001 by Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, who also serves as the Artistic Director, The Conciliation Project’s mission is to promote, through active and challenging dramatic work, open and honest dialogue about racism and oppression in America in order to repair its damaging legacy. Through its productions, The Conciliation Project pulls back the Band-Aid on this nation’s dark history and gets to the root of the problem with uncomfortable truths. It is only then that the healing and conciliation may begin.
“We used the name ‘Conciliation’ because you can’t reconcile if you’ve never done it in the first place,” Dr. T explains. “This country has never addressed our issues; Black people can’t reconcile with whites because we were never friends! We began enslaved and oppressed; we’ve got to acknowledge and address that, and then we can talk about building bridges of understanding, acknowledgment, recognition, and appreciation. But you can’t forget how it all started, or else it will reoccur.”
Through productions addressing topics of racism, sexism, the prison industrial complex, Native Americans, to name a few, Dr. T and The Conciliation Project crew set out to do diversity training of sorts, sans the politically correct talk that skates around the real issues. The goal is to provoke the audience with raw stories, unbiased facts, and ugly truths that challenge belief systems and hold a mirror in the face of those who’ve subscribed to harmful schools of thought.
In Locked & Loaded, the audience will experience a retelling of gut-wrenchingly tragic mass shootings, police killings, and hate crimes that plague this nation. Weeks ago, the rehearsals ended with Pulse Nightclub as the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history; unfortunately, the cast and crew were forced to rewrite the script to make room for the Las Vegas massacre, which now holds that title. When will it stop?
“That man shot 500 people in less than 10 minutes,” recalls Dr. T with disappointment in her voice. “Just one man.”
This is why The Conciliation Project is tackling gun violence in America, even though it’s clear that lawmakers and 2nd Amendment advocates have no interest in this discussion.
“When Sandy Hook happened and then-President Obama basically wept while talking about the kids, I said we needed to do something about gun violence.” Dr. T says. “Kids got massacred and nothing happened. Then Charleston happened. And Richmond.”
It’s no secret that Richmond’s experiencing an uptick in gun violence. Recently, an infant was killed by bullets fired into her parent’s Henrico home. Every day, the news reports of senseless shootings in our communities that claim the lives of both residents and the officers responding to calls. Eventually, we’ve all got to be accountable for both the laws and the culture that allows this type of violence to persist, and accountability starts with conversation.
Locked & Loaded is the first step towards this conversation, engaging people of all backgrounds in meaningful dialogue about what we truly want for the future of America. The six-character play satirizes a religious devotion to guns and gore, dissects the purviews of Americans from all walks of life, from the self-proclaimed Redneck to the militant Black woman.
“In Locked & Loaded, there’s a Black character that agrees with many white people,”explains Dr. T. “They have the ‘Black people don’t care anyway!’ attitude towards gun violence. At one point, he says, ‘Police can’t stop these people; nobody can stop them, it’s just how they are.’ That’s internalized oppression. We also show the religious community, which runs to the church for refuge so they don’t have to deal. So, white folks aren’t the only people learning. We’ve got people of color internalizing that oppression and bias as well.”
Perhaps the most remarkable part of this production is that its creation was a collaboration between both cast and crew. Everyone had a hand in writing, many drawing inspiration and motivation from their own personal experiences.
“This is something I’d never thought impacted my life until we got to auditions,” recalls actor and co-writer Rachel Hindman. “Dr. T asked us about our relationship to gun violence, and finally I was like ‘Wow, my brother was held up at McDonalds when he was a manager there. I had a family friend die from a drive-by shooting, and another family friend—a 10-year-old boy who was cleaning his gun as a chore—accidentally dropped it; it went off, and killed his younger sister.’ I never realized how close I was to gun violence.”
From the projection of harrowing statistics to raw, abrasive language that communicates outrage, one thing’s for sure: Locked & Loaded is holding nothing back in its quest to expose the dangers of gun culture and complacency in preventing future mass shootings.
“We’re so used to hearing sugarcoated or biased information on social media and in the news,” says Darrelle Brown, another actor and co-writer. “But we’re telling the unfiltered truth. Lots of plays are written to tell a portion of the truth or filter it because of their audience. Not this play. If it’s the truth, we’re going to say it.”
When the cast takes its final bow on November 11th, The Conciliation Project will have facilitated a transformational experience amongst theatergoers through meaningful dialogue and honest self-examination. What then follows, we can only hope, is the joining together of a few more allies in the fight to change the statistics and shift our culture.
Locked & Loaded: a story in parts and pieces opens at Richmond’s The Basement on November 2, and runs through November 11. Learn more and get tickets here.