“Enough is enough.”
How often have we heard that appeal? Activists, politicians, and journalists alike use this catch-all, pithy saying to back any number of social injustices—often pairing it with a heaping serving of inaction. It’s cliché and overused. ENOUGH! PLAYS TO END GUN VIOLENCE, at Seattle Children's Theatre on November 6, begs the question: what if enough really is enough?
What if we confronted gun violence in a new, unpredictable way?
ENOUGH! has an answer: offer a platform to teen creatives with a taste for the revolutionary.
Teen writer Kaylee Yu corresponded with one of these creatives, playwright Valentine Wulf. A Washington native, Wulf is a recent graduate of Seattle’s Center School. Wulf’s play, The Matter at Hand, is a cynical, absurdist comedy, a style she has particular fondness for. Unique, dark, and sardonic, The Matter at Hand is, (as Valentine intended), attention-grabbing in the way only the arts can be.
Kaylee Yu: Can you describe what The Matter at Hand is about, in your own words?
Valentine Wulf: The Matter at Hand is about a school’s administrative staff contemplating ways to prevent school shootings. Not only are their ideas bad—like handing out dum-dums to good kids, slapping smiley face armbands on children and having them rule the halls with an iron fist to enforce kindness (Principal Claudette Latete does not understand why this might not go over well), and hitting kids with yardsticks—they're so bogged down in paperwork and bureaucratic nonsense that they have no time or resources to implement a real solution. Halfway through, a student shoots up the school. Next fall, the teachers return, armed with Uzis and grenade launchers as Principal Latete shows her colleagues her newly dyed L'Oreal hi-lift blonde hairdo.
How did you discover the ENOUGH! plays? What has the experience of working on such a large-scale, nationwide project taught you?
I don't remember how I discovered ENOUGH! I got an email about it from someone promoting it. It’s been a lot of pressure working on a play that is going to be read all over the country. But I work well under pressure. The feedback I’ve gotten has been fantastic and has helped me shape the tone and throughline of the play.
Your ENOUGH! play, The Matter at Hand, seems quite different from your debut show, Welcome to the Landfill. In what ways do they differ, and in what ways have you seen your creative voice adapt and grow into this heavy subject?
I don't think it’s all that different. Welcome to the Landfill dealt with heavy subjects as well—kidnapping, abusive parents, tumultuous relationships (it even ends with someone being shot and killed and possibly shredded in an industrial recycling plant).
Some people handle heavy subjects gently and respectfully. I handle them tastelessly and perversely. A comedy about a school shooting is tacky and wrong—I willingly admit that—but perverse and wrong grabs people’s attention, and people’s attention needs to be grabbed. And, ultimately, The Matter at Hand is not mocking school shootings or their victims—it’s mocking how routine they’ve become and how we slap band-aids on the issue and sit around bitching about it instead of coming up with a real solution.
Teens are one of the most targeted groups of gun violence. Despite that, we see little to no teens speaking up. What would you say to activism-oriented teenagers looking to step into gun violence prevention?
First, learn about guns. Know what you’re talking about. All too often I hear people campaigning for gun control stating blatantly incorrect facts about gun laws, calling AR-15s ‘machine gun’ (they’re semi-automatic, machine guns are already illegal in most states), or—my pet peeve—using the word ‘assault weapon’ (anything you can assault someone with is an assault weapon—it’s not a real classification of gun). Please learn the correct terminology and do your research. Being well informed not only makes you more credible, but also helps you form your own thoughts and opinions instead of regurgitating ones you heard from an Instagram infographic.
Second, sit down and talk to someone you disagree with. Not a kvetch-off or series of pointed Tweets where you see who can insult the other better, but an actual, productive conversation.
Do you think the arts can bring about true cultural reform, especially in areas as contended as gun violence?
They can’t. I realize that going ‘Here! A play about gun violence!’ is a lot like Latete going ‘Look! School kindness week!’. It’s a starting place, but it’s not a solution. I don’t know what the solution to gun violence in America is. But pretending it doesn’t happen is not the solution.
You can look in the mirror and notice your unibrow, but the mirror can’t pluck it for you. You gotta do that yourself. (No shame to anyone sporting a unibrow, I’m sure you pull it off.) The arts are a mirror—they can help us see the problem, but they can’t fix it. We have to.