‘After Orlando’ in Philly gives voice to victims of an American tragedy

A June 13 City Hall vigil for victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. (Photo by Alaina Mabaso)

Tragedy often inspires art. Artistic expression can serve as a cathartic grieving  and healing process for both the artist and the community. This fall, theater companies and artists around the world will be holding events called After Orlando: readings of short plays in response to the June 12, 2016 shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The event will be hosted locally by the Philadelphia Theatre Company, in association with New York’s Missing Bolts Productions and University of the Arts, on Monday, November 21.

Views of the tragedy and calls to action

The project originated with Zac Kline, artistic director of Missing Bolts Productions, but each local organization curates its own program, drawn from a master packet of over 75 plays provided by Kline. The curator of the local event, Carrie Chapter, literary manager and dramaturg for PTC, has chosen 16 plays, each only 3-5 minutes long, including two pieces by local playwrights Jacqueline Goldfinger and MJ Kaufman.

Several criteria factored into Chapter’s choice of plays. “My first priority was to keep in mind the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s mission statement,” Chapter says. “That is, to present well-written material that speaks to the human condition.”

We wanted pieces that were effective in evoking the essence of what people went through in Orlando. And we wanted to present the tragedy through many points of view,” Chapter continues. “Some tell stories of those left behind; some are calls to action — calls to combat the epidemic of gun violence.”

Take a moment to listen

MJ Kaufman, a Philadelphia-based playwright whose work will be included in the event, echoes similar sentiments. Kaufman’s concern is not only gun violence in general, but specifically violence against trans people, who were also among the victims of the Orlando tragedy.

My piece is an excerpt of a play I’d already written about a trans person going back and reliving the story of Joan of Arc,” they say.  

What does Kaufman hope might be accomplished by this event and their piece?

“I only hope that [people] would take a moment to listen to what this trans person has to say.” That, of course, goes for all the voices portrayed in this event.

After ‘After Orlando’

Chapter expresses optimism that there might be a future for these works after the initial flurry of worldwide events: more After Orlando readings may be down the road. Also, Chapter and Kline both talk of publishing the entire 75+ piece collection accumulated by Kline, which they hope will continue to spark discussion and community involvement on the issue of gun violence.

And in the spirit of discussion and community involvement, PTC is hosting as part of its program a special appearance by Patience Carter, an Orlando survivor, who will be reading a poem she wrote about the experience. After the staged reading of the plays, there will also be a Community Conversation including everyone in the audience.

After Orlando will be presented for one night only, November 21 at 7 pm at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad & Lombard Streets. Attendees must reserve a seat in advance, but admission is free, and donations will be accepted to benefit Pulse of Orlando, a charity created to help survivors and families of the victims of the Orlando shooting. For more information, call the PTC box office at 215-985-0420, or visit online.

Kun-Yang Lin

of Philadelphia, PA on November 16, 2016

Hi, sorry that I will be traveling and not able to see this show. The subject— the shootings at Orlando— is very important and one that I have been exploring with my dance artists of Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers since this summer, and we will premiere the work in April 2017. I will pass along the information to all my dance artists.