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Play tackles gun debate in America

Growing up on her family’s farm in rural Oregon, playwright E.M. Lewis didn’t think twice about guns.

“I didn’t think about them any differently than I did having a toaster or a bicycle or a plow. They were just things we had on the farm. There was no emphasis placed upon them,” Lewis said.

Over time, her thoughts about guns grew more complicated. She enjoyed learning to shoot in the woods, but was also a victim in an armed robbery.

With more than a dozen full-length plays under her belt, Lewis decided to write a one-person play about her experiences with guns in America.

The Ashland New Plays Festival is presenting performances of “The Gun Show” at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 14-15, at the Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, Ashland. Tickets are $25 and are available at the door or online at www.ashlandnewplays.org. Tickets to the one-hour play are subject to availability.

Actor Andrew William Smith will bring Lewis’ story to life. He recently completed a month-long production of “The Gun Show” in Pittsburgh.

Audience members are invited to join in a conversation about their personal experiences with guns following the play.

From the play’s premiere four years ago in Chicago, Lewis wanted to give audience members time to share their own experiences with guns. “The Gun Show” has since been staged dozens of times across the country and overseas in Scotland.

“Many have chosen to have a conversation afterward with the audience to see if the play could open up some space for connection and understanding,” she said.

Lewis said she tried to write a play that speaks to everyone regardless of where they stand on the hot-button issue.

“I don’t want to tell anybody what to think or feel or believe. But maybe they’ll hear something that they haven’t heard before about what guns mean in people’s lives,” she said.

In the past, audience members have spoken about special experiences bonding with their fathers or grandfathers as they learned how to shoot. Others who live far from law enforcement agencies have shared that they keep guns at home for protection.

Some have told devastating stories about domestic violence and guns, or about accidents that happened after children found unsecured guns.

Although theater stereotypically attracts a more liberal crowd, Lewis said she’s been surprised by the diversity of viewpoints offered after stagings of “The Gun Show.”

“We often start the conversation by asking, ‘Who in this room has ever seen a gun? Who has ever held a gun? Who in this room owns a gun?’ And there are a lot more hands raised than you might think,” she said.

Lewis said she understands that America is divided on the issue of guns — as the country is on many topics.

“But I want to believe we have more in common with each other than what separates us — that there are human values that we hold in common that are larger than the political values that are separating us now,” she said. “But it’s not an easy time. I don’t know how we find common ground except one conversation at a time, one person at a time sitting across a table or sitting in a room together and saying, ‘What connects us?’”

Lewis is a former Ashland New Plays Festival-winning playwright. She is currently featured in an episode of the Play4Keeps podcast, in which she discusses the play with ANPF Associate Artistic Director and Southern Oregon University theater professor Jackie Apodaca. Select episodes of the Play4Keeps podcast are available for free on podcast apps, with more content available through a premium subscription.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.