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“Shots Fired” Cry Havoc’s take on Dallas Shootings of 7/7/16

Can theater help a city heal?

Photos with Kenni, used with permission
Jordan Mercado as Mark Hughes in "Cry Havoc"
Source: Photos with Kenni, used with permission

I wasn’t in Dallas on 7/7/16, but the shootings proved to be the banana peel that triggered a second depressive relapse in six months. When a friend suggested I see Shots Fired,” a new play regarding the police shootings at a demonstration in Dallas, I hesitated.

How would Cry Havoc, an innovative group in Dallas, handle this event? Could this show reopen the wound?

Last July, I attended the memorial service in in Dallas. Fueled by the Stevie-Wonder-crafted lyrics of Chief Brown, the honorable show of force of presidents Obama and Bush (W), our mayor and our city, I rallied until August. I nursed myself in a news blackout and long solitary hikes in the Pecos Wilderness. Then, in a fit of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), I accompanied my husband and daughter on what I now affectionately call the “Death and Destruction Tour.” (D&D Tour).

Julie K Hersh
Hopeful fireweed sprouting in a burnt forest in the Pecos Wilderness
Source: Julie K Hersh

A bit of advice, if you’re already depressed, a tour of holocaust museums and concentration camps is not a good thing. I witnessed the hate that exterminated millions of Jews (Berlin Holocaust Museum and Memorial, seasoned with stories about the Berlin Wall, Auschwitz, the Warsaw Holocaust Museum and of course Prague, the city Hitler preserved to to be the museum of the extinct race of the Jews).

Did I mention I’m from an interfaith family? My husband and children are Jewish. I’m some version of Catholic that most Catholics would reject. In my tolerant world, people can reject my religious practice, yet still be my friend. People even like me (I think). I bounce between my roles as Board Chair of the 2017 Tony Award Winning Dallas Theater Center and the being supportive wife of my husband in his role as President and CEO of The Bush Center, between friends of all colors, religions and sexual preferences. This happens with ease and more tolerance than any news article ever wants to report. For my good friends in NY and CA, I will remind you this all happens in Dallas, Texas. Y’all might want to visit.

But last summer, it was different. I saw walls sprouting and ravines of opinion widening with core-shaking speed. Well into the D&D Tour, when I learned about the extermination of my own people, the Poles, at the Warsaw Uprising Museum, a switch flipped. I knew from reading and studying the Holocaust that approximately 6 million Jews perished during WWII. I didn't realize that the Poles, no matter what their religious affiliation, were slaughtered in large scale. The United States Holocaust Museum estimates about 4.9 million civilians were killed in Poland, 3 million Jewish and 1.9 million of other faiths. My guess is that most of the non-Jews were Catholic, Polish and Catholic, just like me.  In January of 1945, months before the surrender of the Germans, the Russians sat at the border and let the Germans bomb the Poles into oblivion. About 85% of Warsaw was destroyed.

Julie K Hersh
Warsaw, rebuilt and thriving
Source: Julie K Hersh

Having survived more than my fair share of Polack jokes as a kid, I knew my ancestors were often the butt of jokes. Dad assured me this was because people were jealous of Copernicus and other great Polish thinkers. I had no idea we were so reviled. The slant of the history of WWII suddenly seemed a vicious plot. We all know about London being bombed, but Warsaw’s devastation seemed completely overlooked. Combined with the ugly vitriol of the election, my friends’ harsh posts on Facebook (liberal and conservative, brown and white), shootings of young black men, gay men, talks of a giant wall, I doubted peace was ever possible. My depression switch flipped, landing me in the psych ward. Luckily Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) helped me bounce back to life.

I spent months in therapy in an attempt to become more like Teflon. I want to strike that fine balance of being sensitive without being self destructive. What I consume in terms of media, art, people, life impacts that balance. If there is no hope in the art consumed, it chips away at my mental state.

Yet, at the same time, I can’t shield myself from life. One of my best friends told me this week she thought of me as an explorer. An explorer must push the edge or wither. What is the divide between a soul-crushing bubble of insular life and nurturing one’s soul?

Photos with Kenni, used with permission
The cast of "Cry Havoc"
Source: Photos with Kenni, used with permission

I attended “Shots Fired” on 7/8/17, a year and a day after the painful night that caused the tragic deaths of police officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Kohl, Michael Smith, Patrick Zamarripa and Brent Thompson. The cast, made up of high school students from around the Metroplex, reveals a nuance of color and perspective I see lacking in most conversations about race. They don’t sugar coat the truth, but they’re not embittered. They’re gritty, energetic AND hopeful.

Matt Mrozek, used with permission
Clay Yocum & Stormi Demerson in "Br'er Cotton"
Source: Matt Mrozek, used with permission

“Shots Fired” is the salve of art done well. For 7/7/16, it hits an artistic sweet spot that unearths, honors and serves. Kitchen Dog Theater, a Dallas regional theater, presented both this show and produced “Br’er Cotton,” a brilliant world premiere play by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm.  Unfortunately, that show has already closed but is part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere and will open in other areas.  Click here for information. For Dallas and beyond, these are conversation-spurring shows that heal.

PS - If you need something light in Dallas to balance “Shots Fired,” my RX is “Hood,” the new world premiere musical about Robin Hood at Dallas Theater Center.

For more information about Julie K Hersh or her book Struck by Living (available in Spanish as Decidí Vivir) check out the Struck by Living website.