Student-directed musical “Our New Town” tackles gun violence on and off the stage


Jonah Elkowitz/The Daily Northwestern

Lila, played by Communication senior Hope Valls, carries a chair to barricade a door from a school shooter.

Isabelle Butera, Reporter


Content warning: This story contains mentions of gun violence. 

The newest student musical, “Our New Town,” tackles the dark American reality of gun violence through activism, both onstage and offstage.  

“Our New Town” will premiere Friday and Saturday at the Piven Theatre Workshop. The show features music by David Dabbon, whose credits include “Beetlejuice,” and a libretto by Gabriel Dean and Jessie Dean. The musical is directed by Communication senior Samara Malik, a former Daily staffer, and produced by Communication junior Arella Flur.

Malik said she was drawn to the show because of the way it tackled the difficult topic and how it centered hope, community and advocacy. 

“I felt like it was showing a view of the experience of gun violence in America that we often don’t consider,” Malik said.

In an effort to carry their message beyond the stage, “Our New Town” included an activism team, led by Communication senior Arianna Staton and Weinberg sophomore Lily Cohen, a Daily staffer. The pair facilitated discussions with the cast about the history of mass shootings referenced in the musical to allow the cast to grapple with the show’s context and subject matter. 

“Our New Town” hosted a phone-banking and letter-writing campaign Friday at Harris Hall. They used resources from Everytown for Gun Safety to write to Democrats, urging them to pass the Build Back Better Act, which includes funding for community violence intervention programs. The show is also collecting donations at the door for Family Rescue, an anti-violence and housing support organization.

The musical opens with a vigil held by a college theatre group one year after its production of “Our Town” halted midway through, when an armed assailant locked the doors to the theater and opened fire.  

The show’s content carried extra weight to the cast, whose identities as college theatre students reflect those of their characters. Communication senior David Marquette, who portrays one of the leads in the show, said the pervasive threat of gun violence in high school impacted his character choices. 

“It feels deeply personal (to our cast),” Marquette said. “Even though these are characters, we’re telling our own story, and we’re letting out our own feelings about this.”

Throughout the directing process, Malik gave actors the liberty to infuse their own experiences with gun violence into the characters they portrayed. She said she wanted the production to feel like a “community piece.” 

The production included a violence and intimacy team, who led discussions on the actors’ past experiences with gun violence. They also participated in exercises that allowed actors to separate themselves from the heavy content of the show for their own mental well-being. 

SESP senior Amy Drake, who was the production’s marketing director, said the show seeks to challenge viewers’ beliefs.

“There is a wide range of political views expressed in the show,” Drake said. “The mission of the show is to help people formulate their own opinions and attitudes, but ultimately, to take action in some form for whatever it is that they may believe in.”

Malik said she hopes the musical shows students the extent of activism’s accessibility.

“Northwestern is a very liberal campus, but I think sometimes we fall short on acting on what we’ve Instagram ‘infographic-ed’ about,” Malik said. “There are small and simple steps you can take to create a collective change.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @Isabelle_Butera

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