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Verge Theater’s The Gun Show asks...Can We Have a Conversation About: GUNS

Tuesday Sep. 4th, 2018

Bozeman Magazine spoke with members of the production team behind The Gun Show, Verge Theater’s season opener. This show is sure to be fantastic, between the topical subject matter — the gun control debate in America — and the pairing of two of the Gallatin Valley’s most  accomplished theatrical artists. We got the inside scoop from Verge executive director Hilary Parker as well as Will Dickerson, who directs, and Mark Kuntz, who stars in The Gun Show.

Bozeman Magazine: What is this play about?

Parker
: The Gun Show is a no-nonsense take on guns in America. But it’s not a political show. It’s not a right vs. left show. This show won’t tell you whether your beliefs about guns — and we all have them — are right or wrong. And it doesn’t offer recommendations for next steps. The Gun Show simply tells five real-life stories from the playwright, E.M. Lewis. She shares her stories through The Gun Show to help us think about guns rather than yell about them or march about them or otherwise disconnect from our fellow community members.

BM: Why this play? What are you hoping to accomplish?

Parker
: Verge’s Creative Task Force chose this play because of the chance it gives us to build community around this crucial issue. We are so hopeful that people with all kinds of perspectives and experiences will come out and share them during the run of the show. Everyone on the ten-person Task Force has a different idea about what role guns should play in society going forward, so we thought it would be a good idea to start a larger conversation. And what we like about this play is that The Gun Show challenges everyone’s views on guns while still inviting us all to abandon the yelling… because, let’s face it, yelling isn’t getting us anywhere. Instead, let’s listen to each other. So we will hold a talkback after the show for any audience member who wants to stay and listen and discuss and process with their neighbors.

BM: Sounds like a pretty far-fetched goal in today’s political climate.

Parker
: On the contrary — most people crave the return of common sense communicating. This is exactly the kind of community we must all work to create. 
 
BM: OK, so… playing devil’s advocate here: Theaters are often seen as liberal. Have you really invited gun advocates to this show?

Parker: Verge is a nonprofit community theater. We have a huge range of people who volunteer here, representing every portion of the political and social spectrum. But yes, we’ve performed specific outreach to “pro-gun” organizations and businesses as well as to those who could be classified as more “anti-gun.” If you feel passionately about gun ownership and are a strong supporter of the NRA, we need you at this show. If you feel passionately about gun control legislation and are a strong supporter of groups like Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety, we need you at this show. That’s the entire point — to highlight connections between people who may have been led to believe they have little in common. Once we’re reminded of those connections, community can grow.


BM: Interesting. Let’s talk to the creative team. Will Dickerson, you’re a director and an actor, and it says here you’ve worked with Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Writers Theatre, Boston’s The Huntington Theatre and Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, among others. Will, what made you want to direct this show?

Dickerson
: The very first thing that drew me to The Gun Show was NOT the fact that it addressed the gun conversation. The very first thing that piqued my interest was the description of the actor that would play the author. First, the fact that the author, a woman, chose to be represented by a male actor, and then even more specifically that she dictates that he be “a little bit rough, a little bit soulful, capable of violence.” The first thing I thought was, “aren’t we all capable of violence?” We are, of course. But I’m also keenly aware of my own bias against men in this respect: a bias built on a world full of violence, more often than not perpetrated by men. The actor is used as a conduit for an unsparingly vulnerable series of stories. I believe… I hope that by delivering Lewis’ stories to the audience through the instrument of an imposing male form, we can challenge the insensitive/malignant/masculine and the hysterical/victimhood/feminine stereotypes.

BM: So this show isn’t about politics for you, either?

Dickerson: Generally, as an artist and consumer of art, I am not interested in overtly political pieces. The line between art and propaganda is at best uncomfortable and at worst terrifying. For me, art does not deliver a message — it elicits a reaction. Art can challenge or soothe or even transform its audience, but these processes happen from within the person consuming the art. I am suspicious of any attempt to dictate the nature of that reaction. The gun conversation — the conversation that the playwright tells us we are not having — has an intrinsic conflict. It is a conversation populated by feelings of empowerment, joy, self-reliance, violence, liberty, oppression, and affluence to name a few. It is the kind of conversation I’m not convinced we know how to have… I almost said ‘any more,’ but I don’t actually think we’ve ever known how to transcend our own experiences in order to understand the experiences of the strangers in our lives — people outside of our immediate family. This play is full of observations and questions. It is engineered to recreate a sort of emotional and ethical vertigo experienced by the author in one defining moment of her life. The original American tragedy, Death of a Salesman, plays a similar trick. After Willy Lowman has shed his mortal coil, thanks to the power of free will and the American automobile, his wife is tasked with telling us what is required. The actress becomes the instrument for Arthur Miller, the playwright’s, justification for the only true purpose of tragedy: ‘Attention must be paid.’

BM: And attention will be paid with Mark Kuntz starring in The Gun Show.

Parker: Very much so. Will summed it up nicely when he said that Mark is one of the only artists he could think of who can sustain the very tricky emotional balancing act that this piece demands, and I’d echo that sentiment as it pertains to Will’s direction, so Verge feels very lucky to have them both working together on this piece. Mark’s been a professional actor and director for more than 20 years, including 18 tours with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks. Mark has toured nationally and internationally with Montana Repertory Theatre as well as acted in Germany and China. Bozeman Magazine readers will have seen Mark in shows at The Ellen Theatre and with Bozeman Actors Theatre here in town, and now he’s at Verge — acting in this show and directing the next, a send-up of Chekhov’s The Seagull called Stupid F#@&ing Bird that opens in October. Oh, and did I mention he’s also directing Verge’s Teen Theater musical this fall?
 
BM: Mark, it sounds like you’re an extremely busy guy. Why did you clear room on your schedule for The Gun Show?

Kuntz
: I am attracted to The Gun Show as an actor due to its simple, barebones narrative, which balances perfectly with an emotional heft that would be a welcome challenge to any performer. The material is razor sharp and beautifully written, the topic couldn’t be any more topical, and the small, personal feel of the show — a tight, weighty show told quickly with humor, truth, and intimacy — are feasts for an actor. I am also extremely excited to do a show in the Verge space and work closely with one of the best directors in town, who also happens to be a good friend of mine.

BM: It’s officially a love fest! Sounds like you have had a great time bringing this show to the Gallatin Valley.

Kuntz
: I absolutely love this piece and can’t wait to share it with audiences.
 
What to know if you go: The Gun Show, which is being supported by We Recycle Montana/Biofuels Montana/Full Cycle Montana and Outside Bozeman, will run Fridays and Saturdays, Sept. 7-22, at 8PM at Verge Theater (2304 N. 7th Ave., Suite C-1). Tickets are $14 in advance and $16 at the door, and are available at vergetheater.com and Cactus Records & Gifts. Or if you volunteer to work the box office at Verge on the night of the performance, you get two free tickets! Contact hilary@vergetheater.com to learn more.

In addition, the Baxter Hotel will sponsor a performance on Monday, Sept. 10 with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres starting at 5:30PM. Tickets and more information are available at www.thebaxterhotel.com/events/save-the-date/.