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Discussing guns in a new forum: rock cabaret

Guns and gun control have been a topic of debate in Connecticut and around the nation for the last year and a half or so since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This week, just 25 miles from Newtown, that debate took on a new form – a rock cabaret.  The show was Wednesday night at Summer Theater of New Canaan.

Playwright, composer and director Liz Swados says she was sick of seeing news reports about gun violence.

Credit Craig LeMoult
The cast of "Guns: A Cabaret" on stage at Summer Theater of New Canaan

“Finally, at a certain point, I just said, ‘oh my God, enough!,'" said Swados. "Our country is crazy, we’re crazy with this gun thing. And usually when I have a strong feeling, I make a show about it.”

It’s not new for her to tackle difficult subjects in her work. She wrote and directed the Tony-nominated musical Runaways, and other works have focused on issues like addiction, and racial tension.

“I kind of seek out, from time to time, things that are hot - they’re hot to touch," she said. "And sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.”

What was new for Swados this time was how she created the show. Instead of writing it herself, she assembled a group of musicians in their late teens to mid twenties, some of whom were or had been her students at NYU. Under her direction, they wrote a series of rock songs on the subject.

“Not necessarily a musical," she said. "Not necessarily a rock band. But somewhere in between.”

Doug Widick is one of the musicians in the show, which is called "Guns: A Cabaret." 

“Doing something that’s rock n roll will engage the audience with something they’re familiar with with something they’re uncomfortable with,” said Widick.

Elliott Morse wrote a song called Aftermath, about the Florida case in which neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

“I wanted it to be this chorus of voices speaking as George Zimmerman’s consciousness," said Morse.
Or rather, the voice in the back of his head, speaking to him after the fact.”

In one song, PJ Adzima performs in the character of a child who finds his parents’ gun.

“No matter what side of the debate you’re on, a child getting shot in the head with their parents’ gun is a tragedy,” said Adzima.

I want to rile up people a little bit,” said Swados. She says they didn’t make an effort to balance the shows argument about guns.

“This piece is clearly, without question, anti-guns. And it needs to be.”

Swados says she understands the point of view that the problem is criminals with guns, not responsible gun owners.

"It’s just non-existent and impossible to do in this country right now.”

She says that’s because gun rights groups oppose legislation that she says could accomplish that.

Credit Craig LeMoult
The cast of "Guns: A Cabaret" receives a standing ovation at Summer Theater of New Canaan

The show does include one song called Normal, Average, Everyday Guy, "where the guy talks about you know, the fact that he’s followed all of the rules and that he’s done everything right. And yet he’s still vilified,” said Elliott Morse.

Unfortunately they didn’t get the chance to share that point of view Wednesday night. The show was cut short by a thunderstorm.

But after a night of songs lamenting gun violence, and before the audience scattered, Swados took the microphone, and said there is hope.

Craig produces sound-rich features and breaking news coverage for WGBH News in Boston. His features have run nationally on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on PRI's The World and Marketplace. Craig has won a number of national and regional awards for his reporting, including two national Edward R. Murrow awards in 2015, the national Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi award feature reporting in 2011, first place awards in 2012 and 2009 from the national Public Radio News Directors Inc. and second place in 2007 from the national Society of Environmental Journalists. Craig is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Tufts University.
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