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A Letter from Steppenwolf for Young Adults Artistic Director Hallie Gordon

by Hallie Gordon

As I write this, we are in the midst of a political free-for-all. We anxiously await the ballot box decision of our fellow citizens. What will we tell our children after this election? How will history judge us?

This is epic, it’s like something out of a Greek tragedy. When we “stick to our guns,” cleaving to one extreme of ideological purity or another, no matter the cost, who, finally, will pay the price? What does ego, bravado and lusting after power get you in a Greek tragedy? Death, destruction, and, where you are favored by fortune, redemption. The Burials is a riff on the Antigone story, and it couldn’t be more relevant or timely.

When Caitlin and Erica came to me with the idea for this play it was before the shootings in Orlando, Dallas, Kalamazoo, MI, San Bernardino and Charleston, SC. Which, sadly, horribly, is just to name a few of the mass shootings that have taken place in this country in the intervening months. I thought, naively, I see now, that this topic would not be as relevant, since Sandy Hook happened over four years ago, and I held the hope that the outrage of that day would lead us, finally, to pursue a more sane path. I was wrong.

Art reflects–as it must–the world around us; it helps us build bridges so that we gain a wider sense of the world. If we as a cultural organization don’t engage students in issues that directly effect our country, that directly influence their lives and futures, then what are we offering them beyond entertainment? If we do not grant young people a space/place for them to give voice to their concerns and hopes around issues of gun control, gender, race, climate change, abortion, equal rights, equal pay, family, community and on and on, then I believe we as adults will have failed them. In our effort to shield them from the unpleasantness and harshness of the world, we will have failed to prepare them for the many challenges that await them in adulthood. And the plain fact is this: we are not keeping our children safe–they are dying every day. We must work–as adults, now, today to make change; we must equip them to bring about the change we need in the future.

The generation of students watching this play have grown up with active shooter and lockdown drills in their schools, so that they can be more prepared if/ when a shooting happens in school. This is the new normal. If we as adults can’t do anything to stop the United States from being the mass shooting capital of the world, then maybe our children can. If we teach them that they have agency, that they have the power to rise up and take action for what they believe in, then maybe with our guidance things might change. In June 2016, in the wake of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, Congressional Democrats, led by Representative John Lewis, hosted a sit-in on the floor of the U.S. Capitol after Republican leaders in Congress refused to hold a vote on proposed gun control legislation. When I watched the sit-in, which lasted over 24-hours and attracted over 170 participants, but which ended with no legislative action being taken which might be cause for despair. Except–except–Congressional Democrats have vowed to continue the fight in their districts and in DC. In the face of such a pledge, I dare to feel hope. When I talk to high school students, I am filled with hope. When I watch all the young people protesting for what they believe in, I am buoyed by hope. There is hope in The Burials, but it’s up to us–all of us, of every generation–to seize what hope we can and force the change that is so long overdue.

Hallie Gordon
Artistic Director for Steppenwolf for Young Adults