Two weeks ago, Gunplay debuted on Alma College Campus. This unique theatrical work was produced entirely by the students of Dr. Joanne Gilbert’s Performing Advocacy class the previous semester, and was directed by Dr. GIlbert herself.
Gunplay highlights the byproducts of gun violence in America. The plotline addresses themes of school shootings, police brutality, domestic violence and suicide.
Because the portrayal of topics such as these can be upsetting to audience members, trigger warnings were issued before the production began.
“The posters for the show featured a stylized graphic of an AR-15 and a message in large font that read: WARNING: ADULT CONTENT,” said Dr. Gilbert, Charles A. Dana professor of communication.” “I discussed this with Scott Mackenzie, chair of the theatre and dance department, and we agreed that the posters, programs and pre-show audio should all feature this warning due to the subject matter of the production.”
Issuing trigger warnings for a variety of different content has become standardized over the last decade. Trigger warnings allow audience members a chance to prepare themselves for potentially upsetting content. They also provide the audience members a choice to opt out of viewing the production.
“A trigger warning to me means that the content you are about to see will make you feel uncomfortable. If it’s something that would be offensive to viewers – take certain parts of the play for example – I would mention them on the poster and at the start of the show.” said Sophia Lioli, (’22).
Although trigger warnings were issued prior to each of the four productions of Gunplay, some students felt that certain content required a more specified announcement to allow audience members to prepare themselves.
“The suicide scene was deeply disturbing and was not something I thought was going to happen when watching the play in spite of the trigger warnings,” said Lioli.
Others felt that the trigger warnings issued sufficed in preparing the audience for any potentially shocking content, and that the presence of certain content in the play could be inferred prior to the performance.
“The warning for Gunplay was intended to alert potential audiences that the show featured disturbing content. We did not want to be stipulative and describe the entire plot, and believed that the combination of the topic, the title, the warning and the promotion of the show was sufficient to convey to potential audiences that this play was about gun violence.” said Gilbert.
Certain audience members felt that Gunplay could have been produced without some of the more disturbing and graphic content and that the omission of such content would not distort the overall message of the show.
“It would have been better without the suicide scene. I am sure they could have given their message to the audience in a more comfortable way — a way that would not resort to a person committing suicide in the second to final scene,” said Lioli.
However, the producers of Gunplay included vivid, uninhibited content, although it made some feel uncomfortable, in order to make a strong impact on the audience.
“Early on, I told our set designer, Sam Moretti, that I never wanted the audience to feel comfortable because comfort leads to complacency–the opposite of action–and I wanted audiences to leave with the desire to act,” said Gilbert.
In spite of controversy surrounding trigger warnings, Gunplay was the product of dedication of many hardworking individuals and sent a strong message to viewers, which was the desired goal.
“I am incredibly proud of and grateful for the work my students did to create dramatic scenes and represent actual community voices through their interviews, statistical research, writing and performing,” said Gilbert