A child is wounded by random gunfire. A teen dies after an argument escalates into violence.
Police investigate. Memorials of teddy bears and ribbons are built. Families and neighborhoods are devastated. Then it happens again – more than 100 times a year in Milwaukee the past two years.
“Precious Lives” is a 100-part radio and podcast series about kids, guns and violence. Created by 371 Productions – in collaboration with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, WUWM-FM 89.7 Milwaukee Public Radio, WNOV-AM 860 and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism – the stories explore the impact of, and solutions to, the violence.
Now, with the help of Michelle Lopez-Rios, head of UWM’s acting program, some of those stories are being made into a theatrical production.
“Precious Lives: The Live Show” is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 15, at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St. Eric Von, lead producer of “Precious Lives: Before the Gunshots,” will guide the audience through stories of those directly impacted by gun violence. The show also features live music and video mixing by Kiran Vee of New Age Narcissism, video and visual art by True Skool, and a mix of new and familiar voices.
“We all need to embrace that this is our city, our community,” Lopez-Rios said, “and talk about how can we work together to make it better.”
Lopez-Rios, an associate professor of voice and speech, has extensive experience in restorative theatre – guiding and empowering people in telling their own stories. Already a follower of the series, she jumped at the chance to join the conversation.
“Even those who are familiar with the series will have an opportunity to experience it in a whole other way,” Lopez-Rios said, “because seeing a live performance – a person right in front of you – tell their story is different than listening to it on the radio.”
Paul Kjelland, engagement director for 371 Productions, says the presentation incorporates tapes from the radio production, and some of the people interviewed will tell their own stories. Over the past two years, the series has told the stories of victims and their families, and talked to doctors, police officers, paramedics and other first responders.
The live production will feature a collage of stories, including new ones that Lopez-Rios discovered in a series of four workshops with youth at the COA Holton Center.
“It’s important to me that those who have experienced this, especially the youth, have an understanding of how important their story is to share,” Lopez-Rios said. “The community needs to hear this. We can instigate change.”
The youth who will take the stage draw on personal experiences to share how violence has impacted them and their families, sometimes illustrating it through music or spoken-word poetry.
“Some of these kids live this every day,” Lopez-Rios said. “They’re 13 years old and they don’t know if they’re going to live to be 14 years old because once a week, they drop to the floor in their own house because they hear gunshots. To live like that cannot be OK.”
Two UWM students are also involved with the production. Tevin Smith, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in journalism, advertising and mass communications, interned at 371 Productions. Kimberly Gartrell is a theater student assisting Lopez-Rios.
“Precious Lives: The Live Show” is part of Finding America, a national initiative produced by AIR, with financial support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Tickets are on sale at pabsttheater.org, by phone at 414-286-3663 and at the Pabst Theater’s Box Office. The performance will be followed by a discussion with audience and community members. Additional related events will take place through the summer.