Finding ways to discuss and address fear.
From Up Here, the new show by Forward Theater Company, tackles numerous aspects of school violence, from bullying to shootings to the mental health problems underlying these tragic incidents. The play, written by Liz Flahive and performed through Nov. 23 at Overture Center's Playhouse, tells the story of a community affected by one boy's threat of violence. It raises thorny questions the local troupe wants to discuss at a Nov. 14 symposium co-presented by the CUNA Mutual Foundation.
The free event features a performance of a scene from the play, followed by a panel discussion. The panelists are mental health specialists and other professionals who work with teens.
Jennifer Uphoff Gray, Forward's artistic director, says the event is a chance for parents to take a hard look at a difficult issue and talk through a few of their biggest concerns about their kids' safety. It's also an opportunity to remove some of the stigma from these topics.
"What drew me to this play is that I'm a parent," she says. "These are issues that can very easily keep me up at night. I wanted to talk about these issues in a way that's not terrifying, to see people trying instead of giving up or playing the blame game or pretending the problem isn't there."
Gray says From Up Here isn't just a play about an important social issue. It finds moments of humor while examining a whole community's response to a troubling event.
"Going in, we knew we wanted access to be an important part of this production, for teens in particular, teens who might not normally go to the theater or have the resources to see the show," she says.
Forward partnered with the Goodman Community Center and the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County to give area kids a chance to see the show for free and attend talkbacks afterward. The idea for this collaboration arose during a conversation with CUNA Mutual.
The panel discussion features a Madison police officer who works as a school liaison, a UW psychologist who helps the courts decide if a child is mentally ready to return to school after a disruptive incident, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, and Gray. But Gray calls teachers "the boots on the ground" and hopes they'll attend the event with their students.
Of course, you don't have to be a teacher or teen to be affected by school violence. The event is open to the public, and seeing the full play beforehand isn't a prerequisite.
"We're talking about what we as a community can do for the kids in our lives," Gray says.
Theater, she adds, is a springboard to a deeper discussion about what frightens us, and a way for community members to seek answers to social problems together.