Despite featuring gun use, the Tony-winning Broadway revival of Oklahoma! is deeply committed to activism against gun violence.
During Sunday night’s Tony Awards — where the show won Best Musical Revival and made history when Ali Stroker became the first person who uses a wheelchair to win a Tony — the performance featured people who had been affected by gun violence onstage. And on Thursday, the musical invited students from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida to attend and participate in a post-show discussion about the use of guns in media.
Oklahoma! is the first “gun neutral” production in Broadway’s history. For every visible prop gun onstage, a donation is made to organizations “committed to helping solve the gun violence crisis by destroying firearms that should be out of circulation,” according to the Gun Neutral initiative.
“If we’re going to use guns for entertainment purposes, we’re going to offset it by doing something about it,” Rachel Gould, one of the co-founders of Gun Neutral, tells PEOPLE.
The funds collected go towards three main initiatives: “destruction of real-world, illegal, illicit guns”; “investing in youth arts programs in communities directly impacted by gun violence; and for “research that provides creatives and storytellers with context on the affect that portrayal of gun violence in media has on the audience.”
Shine MSD is a program at Stoneman Douglas High School, that aims to use the arts to aid in mental health and healing. The program led the students on their trip to the Big Apple.
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Several students noted that at several points during the show there were elements that reminded them of the tragic day that left 17 people dead and 17 injured.
“After everything that happened at our school, it kind of felt like we were living in this bubble of time that stopped, because you don’t really know. Time isn’t really a thing after. It’s just kind of like what happened to you,” said 18-year-old Sawyer Garrity during the post-show discussion.
“At the end it was sort of like disorganized chaos in a way because you had silhouettes of people. I think I could really relate to like the shock of everything. Like the moments when shots are fired and you weren’t expecting it,” recalled Andrea Pena, 17, another student from Parkland.
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Oklahoma! on Broadway
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As Orange Is the New Black‘s Alysia Reiner, who moderated the panel, said, “Art allows us to look at things, when it’s on a stage or on a screen, allowing us to take a little bit of a distance and sometimes feel in a different way. There’s a safety when there’s that distance. And there’s a magic that can happen when we experience that and then can talk about it afterwards.
“That’s why we make art — to talk about things as this way of communicating. And to evoke change.”
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is now playing Broadway.
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