Well before last month’s tragic events in Parkland, Florida—and the resurgent national conversation about gun control that followed—Austin’s Theatre en Bloc was preparing the world premiere of The Secretary, a new play that tackles many of the issues dominating recent headlines.
The Secretary, by playwright Kyle John Schmidt, is about an elderly secretary at a high school who is confronted by a gun-toting threat in her office. In response, a local gun company names their latest gun "The Secretary." But when the weapon goes into production, guns start being fired all over town—"and no one's pulling the trigger."
It's a dramatic premise with a comedic outline, using a goofy situation to explore some very serious issues. The impetus for that story, according to Schmidt, was his own mother.
“Several years ago, an Olympic marksman rolled into my hometown and taught my mom and her friend Marge how to shoot in a goat pasture,” Schmidt explains. “My mom got really into guns, and not just for sport but also for self-protection. The more I talked with her, the more I understood why a woman of a certain age who lives in the country would want to carry a gun. But this also got me thinking about who else should have a gun, why they should have it and where they should be able to bring it.”
As his background might suggest, Schmidt did not approach the play from the solidly pro-gun control stance one might expect from an Austin theater company. According to director Jenny Lavery, that was part of the appeal: “This play is important (and has become even more important over the past month) because it doesn't come down on one side or the other of the gun issue. Instead, The Secretary presents the complexities of guns in America and asks the audience to question their assumptions and biases.”
Lavery hopes that the play will attract audiences coming at the issue from a broad number of perspectives. “We have reached out to politicians on both sides of the aisles to attend. We have reached out to gun clubs, ranges and, conversely, gun control advocates. We're also making a concerted effort to get students into our audience because, as Parkland has shown, their voices matter.
To that end, each performance will feature a talkback in order to encourage conversation among audience members. Schmidt knows that The Secretary won’t provide any easy answers, but the playwright is more interested in just raising the right questions. He notes that, “while the recent events have brought an urgency to the play, I also think The Secretary taps into a problem that has plagued every civilization from the beginning of time: How should people protect themselves in a mad, crazy world?”
Lavery puts the goal of the play even more simply: “We obviously haven't solved the gun issue, so let's talk about it.”
The Secretary runs March 23 through April 8 at the Long Center’s Rollins Studio Theater. Tickets can be purchased here.