No time to waste


For Hallie Gordon reports about youth violence in Chicago was nothing new; however, it wasn’t until a young man was murdered just outside his high school, that this mother of two received a wake-up call and began working on projects to help at-risk youth. “I started about three years ago. I had been reading in the news about youth violence being on the rise and after the student’s murder I was just horrified. I had to do something. I felt that because of the work I do with young people—because I create theater plays and select plays that speak to the challenges in our lives—I had to address teen violence in my work. So I started enlisting people who also expressed concerns about this issue,” said Gordon, director of Steppenwolf for Young Adults.

Gordon graduated from the New School for Social Research in New York City, where she studied theater and theater in education. She served as managing director for the Atrium Theater in New York City and as artistic director for the Pillar Studio in Chicago. Yet, her vast experience could never prepare her for the issues, suffering, and trauma encountered by youth living with violence.

Steppenwolf Theater, Chicago Public Library, and Facing History and Ourselves partnered to create Now is the Time, a city-wide coalition around youth violence with a platform and website where young people can speak out against violence. “The three organizations decided that we wanted to have a larger conversation around youth violence, because we each had something really unique to contribute,” Gordon explained.

Now is the Time hosts events across the city including theatrical performances and classes for teens, literary events, visual art activities, workshops for educators, interactive exhibits, and media-making for youth. Recently the organization produced a theater piece called How Long Will I Cry: Voices of Youth Violence. Gordon worked on this project with Miles Harvey, a professor at DePaul University, creating a production from interviews of people impacted by youth violence. They spent two years collecting interviews with Harvey’s students, ending up with over 4,000 pages of transcripts that were turned into a play that was presented at different libraries throughout Chicago and at the Steppenwolf Theater.

Discussions and workshops were also held around the play. “With the play, which was created directly from interviews with youth, gang members, and even parents who lost a child to violence, I realized these communities often don’t talk about the violence they live with; so after every performance we had a trauma counselor because kids were walking out crying, not knowing where to turn to; we had people talking to them and you saw firsthand that this city is in crisis,” Gordon said.

Now is the Time is also working with youth to create an action plan that will contribute to the safety of their communities, schools, and others areas where they gather. The action plan will be given to key city officials, including the mayor. “With youth violence peaking there is a sense of urgency,” Gordon concluded.

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