“It’s an exploration of the history of America’s fascination with guns,” said Cynthia Croot, Associate Professor and Head of Performance at the University of Pittsburgh Theatre Department in describing “Recoil,” the student-developed theater piece. “I think of it definitely in relation to the mechanics of a gun.
“But something really profound that my students were sharing with me is that in the show,” she continued, “we’re not just recoiling from ideas, we’re recoiling from each other and that we’re sort of moving backwards into these spaces where we’re not communicating anymore.”
The theater piece was initially inspired by Croot’s personal history with guns. “I grew up with guns,” she said, “but my experience with them since leaving my childhood home has been very different than it was when I was growing up shooting cans off a railing in my backyard with my dad. I think that the mass shootings of the last few years have seemed to me such a clear call for action that’s not been answered.”
“Over the last two years here at Pitt, I’ve been teaching a class on devising, which is basically building a play from the ground up,” she reported. “And in each of the two classes I’ve taught we’ve had a section on guns. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from my students and they’ve taught me that this needed to be talked about in a larger form.”
Both students and faculty have been involved in the creation of “Recoil” including student designers, all student performers, and faculty members advising and working on projections. “But all of the creation, the collaboration, is almost entirely student driven,” Croot emphasized.
The development of the piece itself was approached in a number of different ways. Some of the material was generated through composition exercises where students were a list of ingredients and had to come up with a scenario, a piece of choreography, or a vignette.
There were also conversations among Croot and the students, an on-line survey sent out to the student community to get a sense of the polarization around the question of how to respond to gun violence, and research into academic journals and on-line news outlets to pull text and quotes.
Croot acted as final editor of the piece, putting the text down on paper and working with the students to determine the order they wanted to tell these stories and how they will be presented on stage. “I would say there’s almost an episodic quality to the text rather than thinking of it as a realistic, well-made three-act play,” she said. “I would think of it as episodic but the relationship to the audience is more direct.”
The goal of “Recoil,” according to Croot, is not to make people uncomfortable but to inform, engage, and create a conversation.
“I think there are probably things that are going to feel a little provocative to people,” she said, “but I think that in large part we wanted to represent our own process, our own collaborative process together, and to reflect that back to the audience: these are some of the questions we’ve tried to tackle, here’s what we went through trying to do it, and this is what we have to share with you.”
“Recoil” will be presented at the University of Pittsburgh’s Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre on April 5th through April 15th.