Loading

"Arms Around America" (working title) to premiere in 2024

THE PROJECT

"Arms Around America" is a community-based performance project. It culminates in a season of podcast episodes and an evening of three short plays based on the oral histories of families around the country whose lives have been shaped by guns. The goal is to foster dialogue among diverse community members about the role of guns in American society.

Community partnerships form the foundation of our work. Partners include arts presenters committed to the development of the work and community organizations whose missions touch on gun-related issues. By prioritizing cross-sector partnerships, we are working to inclusively engage culturally and politically diverse audiences. Confirmed partners include Miami Light Project, Guitars Over Guns, Empowered Youth, and March for Our Lives. We are in discussion with other potential partners in several locations nationally.

THE PROCESS

We conduct book-length oral histories of two families in each of the project’s three home cities. Then we adapt one of those oral histories from each locale into a short theater piece (in consultation with the families themselves). We aim for a constellation of stories that represents diverse scenarios, themes and perspectives on guns and related issues. The theater pieces are produced as a season of podcast episodes, and are then staged as live performances in the form of audio theater, or radio plays.

Pictured is a moment from Pang! (2017), which is also built on a radio play model. Three actors voice dozens of characters while navigating a forest of microphones and tables overflowing with sound effects props.

THE TIMELINE

YEAR ONE
  • DF&Co Establish partnerships with community organizations
  • Partners pre-screen their constituent families for participation in the project, and consult with DF&Co to decide on which families to nominate.
  • Virtual Residency #1: Oral History Consent Process. Family representatives will be walked through their rights and responsibilities, as well as the potential benefits and risks of the oral history process. Signed agreements will guarantee the boundaries of their participation.
  • Oral History Interviews. A local artist, trained in oral history methodology by DF&Co, will conduct ten one-hour interviews with each of the two participating families. Every interview will be transcribed verbatim and made available to the respective families for approval and/or redaction.
  • Virtual Residency #2: DF&Co further develop partnerships and community relations; DF&Co attend community gatherings and offer workshop programming tailored to community.
YEAR 2
  • Adaptation of oral histories into podcast episodes: DF&Co will choose one oral history from each city to adapt into the form of an audio drama, and write a script based on that family’s story, in consultation with the family themselves.
  • Virtual Residency #3:DF&Co further develop partnerships and community relations; DF&Co attend community gatherings and offer workshop programming tailored to community and read excerpts from early scripts.
YEAR 3
  • Podcast production: DF&Co record, edit, master, publish six podcast episodes: three audio dramas and a reflection on the issues and themes of each of them.
  • In-person residencies #4 & #5
YEAR 4
  • DF&Co adapt the podcast audio dramas into live theatrical performance pieces, in consultation with participating families.
  • In-Person Residencies #6 and #7
  • Premiere of Arms Around America

THE MISSION

Arms Around America is designed to position audiences “between the ears” of participating families by creatively interpreting the sounds of their life-stories. We will render empathetic, complex theatrical portraits, illustrating families’ relationships to guns, but not totalizing those families’ identities through those relationships. We combine documentary theater’s practice of sourcing scripts from oral histories, and investigatory theater’s productive tension between verbatim transcripts and formal experimentation.

Artistic and social values are equally important in our work:

OUR STRATEGIES

  • During this period of coronavirus lockdown, we conduct low-cost "virtual residencies," which include up to a week of day-long programming in a single community, repeated over the course of a couple of years of development, at zero or minimal cost to the presenter. During these visits we develop community partnerships and long-term relationships with community stakeholders and the families we work with. We develop the scripts in Los Angeles, in consultation with the families themselves.
  • We bring world-class artists into close, extended contact with communities.
  • We train local artists as oral historians. We conduct several residencies in each community over the 3-year project.
  • We maintain reciprocal relationships with community members throughout and beyond the project.
  • We embed communities deeply inside our process.

Miami Light Project is commissioning the work, and we are looking for at least one more co-commissioner, preferably in the middle of the country, perhaps in a rural location.

The development of Arms Around America is made possible in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts Art Works program, the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Performance Network's Community Fund.

ARTIST STATEMENT

Arms Around America experiments with the audio theater format we began exploring in Pang! (2017). Creating a work of national scope around such an urgent social issue challenges us as artists and activists to participate in wider socio-political discourses. Neither a pro- nor anti-gun project, Arms Around America is a pro-dialogue project.

As an oral historian, playwright, and producer, I am uniquely equipped to bring diverse communities into dialogue around difficult issues, and to contribute to greater empathy and understanding.

WHO WE ARE

Dan Froot has toured internationally since 1983. Awards include a Bessie (New York Dance & Performance Award), a City of Los Angeles Artist Fellowship, and a Foundation for Jewish Culture Playwriting Fellowship. He has worked with Dan Hurlin, Yoshiko Chuma, Ping Chong, David Dorfman, Mabou Mines, Ralph Lemon, and Victoria Marks, among others.

Natalie Camunas is a native Los Angeleno, USC graduate, queer second-generation Latinx actor, playwright, and voice-over artist. Natalie works regionally in theatres across the country, favorites include Mother Road at Arena Stage in Washington D.C., Native Gardens at the Cleveland Playhouse and originating the role of “Gabby Orozco” in the World Premiere co-production of American Mariachi at the Old Globe Theatre & Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Recent TV credits: Goliath opposite Billy Bob Thornton on AMAZON & Speechless on ABC. As a voice over artist, you can hear Natalie’s voice in promo spots for Fox’s 911 and in the New York Times recommended podcast PANG! (@pangpodcast) available on iTunes. As a playwright, Natalie’s plays have been produced in Los Angeles, New York, and Ireland. nataliecamunas.com

Donna Simone Johnson is a LA Native, actress, choreographer and liberator. Deeply rooted in arts leadership and activism, she is the Co-Founder of Hardcorps (an arts organization providing training to under-resourced artists) and leads various community organizing activations, including work with the LA Poverty Department, Watts Village Theater Company, We Charge Genocide, Calling Up Justice and Equity and Diversity Initiatives for Center Theater Group. An LA Native, she attended New York University, where she earned her MA in Dance Education and CalArts, where she received her MFA in Acting. Since then, she has enjoyed a vibrant career working in commercials, voiceover, on screen and international stages. She is a series regular on Y'all Family, premiering this fall and a Company Member in Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2020 Season, playing Somerset in the Henry VI adaptation, Bring Down The House, (Parts 1 & 2). TV/Film credits include: The Inspectors, Agent X, and Dreamland and NETFLIX's animated Super Drags (recurring). She won the NAACP Award for Best Lead Actress for her work in Broken Fences at The Road Theatre and has worked regionally at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Pantages, Portland Center Stage, Virginia Stage, Playwrights Arena, African American Shakespeare, Co. The Broad, The Royal George and Off-Broadway's Union Square NYC to name a few. International credits and tours include CITIZENSHIP in Kampala, Uganda, Echoes of a Thousand Hills (alongside Mashrika and Center for New Performance, Kigali, Rwanda), and with the award-winning CLOUD 9 (RITu, Liege, Belgium). At a time where the power of the collective is being alchemized into tangible change and liberation, Donna is more energized than ever to continue the work with Dan Froot and Co towards empathy, change and harnessing the power of the collective. @dsimonejo across all platforms for joy and activism alike!

Christopher Rivas is an award-winning writer, social activist, teacher, and speaker. His mission is to create and share powerful stories that disrupt, move us forward, blend boundaries, and encourage dialogue. He's developed storytelling workshops for The WWE, UN High Commission for Refugees, Safe Place for Youth, LAMP on Skid Row, and The Museum of Broken Relationships, among others.

For More Information:

Dan Froot | (310) 766-4942 | danfroot@me.com

danfroot.com | linktr.ee/pangpodcast | #pangpodcast

"Arms Around America" is supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture.
"Arms Around America" is made possible in part by a grant from the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs.
This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Credits:

David Hector Rosales and Monica McGivern