Musical producer

Black playwright and producer seeks to help children understand gun violence with drama

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Sesame Street writers have been known since the late 1960s for their ability to present preschool audiences with some quite heavy subjects. For William Electric Black, former screenwriter of the acclaimed show, teaching young children about gun violence through art feels like another day at work. While Electric is well known in New York’s East Village experimental theater circuit, it is now gaining popularity with a new audience of educators and law enforcement.

As described by NPR News, Electric’s philosophy on teaching difficult subjects is: “come in and leave early”. “You have to start when they’re 3 and 4 because by the time they’re in middle school they’re thinking about a gun or ‘I need to have a gun to protect me from other kids who have guns,'” Electric says. . “Now is the time to make them understand that there is another way.”

In East Harlem, a pilot program is emerging launched by Electric, NYPD Assistant Commissioner for Community Partnerships Chauncey Parker, and Community School District 4 superintendent Kristy De La Cruz. De La Cruz shared that the time Electric’s background working on Sesame Street in addition to his contributions to the production of educational videos make him the perfect partner in this endeavor.

“Mr. William Electric Black has a proven track record in advocating for public health and welfare,” she said. “He is someone who is deeply committed to community service. it’s not like it happens with [his own] ideas. He wants to co-create courses in collaboration with the community.

Electric felt inspired after watching President Biden’s televised address on mass shootings. “The president said, ‘Do something,’ he told NPR. “That’s me. I am devastated by what is happening, but you can’t let this suffocate you and do nothing. In 2013, after reports of back-to-back shootings in the city center, the artist signed on to write a series of plays about gun violence. He eventually ended up with five of what he calls “Gunplays”.

Electric’s first play was “Welcome Home, Sunny T,” the story of an Afghan vet who gets killed on his way to his welcome home party. Similarly, “When Black Boys Die” was about a high school athlete who is killed by gun violence. While both productions were well received, “The Faculty Room” became a critical and audience favorite. In the play, students and teachers at James Baldwin High School are taken into custody after a girl on the basketball team brings a gun to school.

After a New York Times reviewer questioned whether or not theater might have the power to reduce gun violence. Answers to this may vary depending on who you ask, but for Electric, it’s an easy yes.