How a Durham school’s play tries to tackle city’s gun violence, social justice issues

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – As gun violence continues to plague communities in Durham, the drama department at Hillside High School is hoping to raise awareness about the problem through a play called “State of Urgency” this weekend. 

Drama Director Wendell Tabb wrote and directed the play with the help of Tiffany Agerston and Hillside Theater students, which follows different families and focuses on an array of topics which include racism, police brutality and shootings. 

Drama director Wendell Tabb talks about the school’s play (Crystal Price).

“When I brought this to the students in terms of, ‘do you want this to be your opening show,’ and they said ’yes’,” Tabb said.

In 2020, Durham saw a record-breaking number of almost 1,000 shooting incidents, 318 people were shot and 33 individuals were killed.

Tabb said he did research when writing this play by talking to families and students impacted by gun violence, and he said the scenes portrayed are very real. 

“We are not sugarcoating the dialogue, so it’s going to be heartfelt, it’s going to be very insightful, and very informative, but very real,” Tabb said. “I wanted to make sure that when anyone is sitting in the theater watching this play, that they can feel what these other family members felt.” 

Larry Gill is a Hillside senior, and the assistant stage manager for the play, and he said some scenes are hard for them to get through without getting emotional. 

“I feel like people in our community don’t take it as seriously as they need to because these things that we talk about in the play are very serious topics,” Gill said. “I feel like people aren’t as aware as they should be.” 

But even though the scenes are hard for students and the staff to get through, Tabb said he and the students feel it’s necessary to put on this play. 

He said he hopes it will speak to the city and county leaders, as they are calling on everyone to do more in response to what’s happening in the community. 

“What we want is for them to be able to see it in real-time on stage, and hopefully what they see on this stage is going to make any kind of decisions and policies to them urgent, because this is urgent,” Tabb said. 

Tabb said he has spoken with some of the city councilors who told him they plan to attend the play and that one city leader will be speaking at the premiere on Friday night. 

The play will run Friday, November 12, 7:15 p.m., Saturday, November 13, 3:15 p.m., and 7:15 p.m. and Sunday, November 14, 3:15 p.m at Hillside High School. 

All tickets must be purchased online at www.seatyourself.biz/hillside

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