ARMS AROUND AMERICA
Transforming the Gun Debate into Meaningful Dialogue
"Arms Around America" (AAA) is a theatrical performance that fosters dialogue on roles guns play in our lives.
Based on stories of real families around the country whose lives have been shaped by guns, AAA challenges stereotypes on all sides of the gun debate.
Rather than exalting some viewpoints over others, AAA draws meaning from the interplay among short vignettes, and allows the audience to have the last word.
Dan Froot & Company in Pang! at CSPS Hall, Cedar Rapids IA, 2017, photo by John Pemble
Curators and Presenters:
Click on the links below to learn about booking options.
Click play to listen to a sneak peek of the Arms Around America podcast
1. Arms Around America - Full Production
Staged as a 21st-century update of live radio theater, AAA immerses audience members in a sonic world that illuminates some of the roles guns play in American life. Four actors voice dozens of characters while navigating a forest of microphones and piles of play scripts.
They are accompanied by live “Foley” sound effects performed by Artistic Director Dan Froot. For instance, the audience hears characters’ footsteps on a sidewalk but sees Froot treading on amplified concrete blocks. Music is provided by a live band playing composer Julio Montero’s driving, Latin Pop-inflected score.
All this activity is orchestrated into a seamless whole by Sound Designer Duncan Woodbury who, in full view of the audience, is in constant motion, adjusting hundreds of dials and sliders on a desk-sized digital mixing console.
Between vignettes is a community forum we call The Kitchen Table. To instigate dialogue and deepen our connection with the audience, the performers share the stage with eight local community members (solicited by DF&Co) who are seated at a homey kitchen table. From there, they watch the show and discuss its relevance to themselves and their communities, amplified for all to hear. At the end of the evening, the conversation expands to include the entire audience.
Donna Simone Johnson, Christopher Rivas and Cristina Fernandez,
performing Pang! at Miami Light Project, 2018
Photo by Hector David Rosales
Dan Froot & Company in Pang! - Unplugged at University of Saint Joseph, 2019
Photo by Ray D. Shaw
2. Arms Around America - Unplugged
This smaller, elegantly simple version of AAA can be performed just about anywhere: in theaters, schools, lecture halls, etc. Technically, it's a cinch, requiring no theatrical lighting, basic sound support, and relatively little setup or rehearsal time. It is the most affordable, informal and adaptable version of AAA.
Four dynamic actors read six short,evocative plays based on oral histories of real families whose lives have been shaped by guns. They voice dozens of characters in an evening of interactive, low-tech theater. The dialogue is accompanied by original recorded music and sound effects.
As with the full production, the actors share the stage with a handful of audience members seated at a homey kitchen table. Performance morphs into a community forum as the table-mates discuss their own perspectives on the plays. Their conversation is amplified for the rest of the audience to hear, and eventually join.
3. Arms Around America -Create Your Own Episode
Presenters can commission or co-commission Dan Froot & Company to create one or more new Arms Around America vignettes, based on oral histories from their own communities. These can be combined with existing AAA stories to create a locally specific evening-length program.
The process of creating an episode of Arms Around America typically takes 12-24 months. During that period, we conduct a number of short intensive residencies, offering workshops for local artists in Oral History methodology, developing partnerships with social service organizations, and conducting 8-10 1-hour interviews with each participating individual or family. Then we adapt elements of each oral history into theatrical form (in consultation with the participants), rehearse and perform the final work. It's an intensive, deep and long-term form of community engagement.
Dan Froot with community members in Miami FL
The Kitchen Table
Every presentation of Arms Around America includes an intimate conversation among audience members, facilitated by residents of the local community and, when possible, individuals whose stories are being portrayed.
Immediately after the show, six audience members sit together at a table between the seats and the stage. Dan Froot and Company are not at the table. The facilitator provides prompts to get the conversation going. In what ways did you feel invited into or kept out of these stories? In what ways does your own story intersect or diverge from these stories? Once the conversation gets going, anyone can leave the kitchen table, and anyone can replace them.
The Kitchen Table format is based on The Long Table from Lois Weaver's Public Address Systems, which she developed from decades of work as a founding member of the pioneering theater company, Split Britches. It is a highly effective mode of fostering cross-class dialogue around issues experienced by Arms Around America's participating families.
Whether a residency’s goal is to pave the way for a performance of existing work or to seed a new community-engaged project, we are interested in meeting your community members where they are. For instance, if we were planning to perform Arms Around America in your community in October, Dan might visit the prior April for a week. He might attend a meeting of a local group that works on issues of gun violence or attend a city council meeting at which guns are being discussed – all the while connecting with leaders and stakeholders whose missions would benefit from dialogue about guns and gun violence. Partnerships built during this preliminary period deepen our connection to your community and increase the work’s relevance to your constituents.
Having the entire company in residence expands the breadth of our offerings, such as:
Self-care: creative writing, meditation, breath
Oral History Methods