Activism in art: MHS teens present ‘CODE RED’
ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
CODE RED: Playwrights against Gun Violence
Directed by Maggie Borgen, Anna Feltens, and Gabriella Ribeiro
Mentored by Luna Stage Incoming Artistic
Director Ari Laura Kreith
Friday, March 23, 6-9 p.m.
Free, but reservations required
Donations benefit Everytown for Gun Safety
Luna Stage Company
555 Valley Road, West Orange
Playwrights featured are Connie Bennett, Maggie Borgen, Rachel Carnes, DC Cathro, Angela Crrrito, Ruthann Conley, Alexandra Cremer, Stephen Kaplan, Gabriella Ribeiro,
Ricardo Soltero-Brown, Daly Sweeney, Sarah Tuft, Asher Wyndham, Dwayne Yancey
For tickets and more information,
By GWEN OREL
It all came together very quickly.
Montclair High School freshmen Anna Feltens and Maggie Borgens, who will be presenting plays from “CODE RED: Playwrights Against Gun Violence” on March 23, had not yet had a rehearsal when they spoke to the Montclair Local this past Saturday.
The plays themselves were written lightning fast: they were commissioned shortly after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 people dead on Valentine’s Day.
Three days later, on Feb. 17, Rachel Carnes asked if anyone in the in a Facebook group “The Playwright Zone (The Official Playwrights of Facebook)” wanted to participate in a collective play to say #NeverAgain to school shootings.
Literally within minutes, 19 playwrights joined on to write plays that were between 1 -5 pages.
The next day, C.J. Ehrlich asked for help in brainstorming a name for the project. Soon, the two set up a separate group titled “Code Red Playwrights: #Enough.”
Barely two weeks later, on March 3, the compiled script of #NeverAgain plays was sent into the world.
Borgen heard about the project from incoming Luna Stage Artistic Director, Montclairite Ari Laura Kreith, who had heard about it from her friend, playwright Stephen Kaplan.
Kreith, who had worked with Borgen before, knew that the 15-year-old was active in the gun reform movement, and had spoken at the Montclair High School (MHS) walkout.
A picture of the MHS walkout accompanies the eventbrite reservation site for “CODE RED.”
Borgen jumped at the opportunity.
“This project shows a way to be activists through the arts. That’s definitely something that excites me to just make an impact through art because we think so much through what we read, what we see, what we go experience. It’s really important to bring that to many people as we can,” Borgen said.
Borgen has already made a difference through theater. This past August, she presented her third annual event with the Harmony Project, which benefits local organizations. The August concert benefited the Interfaith Hospitality Network. Previous events benefited Toni’s Kitchen and PAWS. Last year, as an eighth-grader at Renaissance Middle School, she took first place in the poetry slam run by the Montclair Literary Festival with her poem “Out of Time.”
Kreith is acting as an advisor and mentor to the young directors Borgen, Feltens and Gabriella Ribeiro, who quickly cast friends who act. The teens will alternate directing, acting and even writing plays and Ribeiro and Borgen both have short pieces in the presentation.
This project is exactly the kind of thing Kreith wants to do as an artistic director at Luna Stage - engage people in conversations and support people who have important things to say, Kreith said.
She will take over from current Artistic Director Cheryl Katz on June 30.
And there will be plenty of conversation at Friday’s presentation.
“There will be time to talk, to reflect, and really just breathe it in,” Feltens said.
She was shocked when she returned to MHS the day after the shooting at Parkland and there was a minute of silence, and no conversation.
“And then, that was it? We didn’t discuss it in any of my classes,” she said.
Her last school, the American International School in Israel, was a very open space for dialogue.
“We could just talk about what we believed in, or what was happening in America. It was actually really important. Whenever there was some big news thing, it would come up in my Humanities class,” Feltens said. So when she heard about this project she thought “that’s amazing, because we hadn’t had a chance to have these types of conversations.”
In Friday’s presentation, the company will read 12 plays.
Kreith said that they have spoken about the idea of having other high school students involved, maybe creating work around the gun control issue, hoping it could be the beginning of a larger operation. “I’m particularly impassioned about how you have conversations across cultural divides, and how theater and art can be a catalyst for creating space to listen,” Kreith said.
Feltens is directing a piece called “Just in case,” by Angela Cerrito, in which a mother texts her daughter during a school lockdown.
She has seen texts uploaded from a news site from her child who has died. “This actually does happen and this is so scary. You’re texting your family and you don’t what will happen,” she said.
Borgen was attracted by Stephen Kaplan’s play, a prologue about lockdown drills. She’s intrigued by the idea of the “normality” of school shootings, she said. Her own play involves the surviving sister of someone killed, and a therapist.
Other plays include a monologue from God, a janitor who felt he’d picked up on something, a play about a small child considering buying light-up sneakers, and a play that addresses Facebook and notifications.
“What ties them all together is that it really is about what it is like to be a student right now, what it is like to be in school,” Kreith said. Which is why, she added, it is so right that it is students who are leading the project.
Borgen agreed that it’s difficult to be a student now because of how ingrained shootings have become in society. This presentation, with its breaks, will allow a real dialogue, and allow the cast not only to discuss what is happen, but also to talk to the audience about their thoughts.
“So that it’s not only them being able to come out of the night with something, but it’s us and the actors being able to come out with something new," Borgen said, "maybe realizing something they hadn’t thought of before."