CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – Gun violence has been on the rise across the region and the Champaign community for some time now. A group of high school students had a chance to discuss that through self-expression.

For weeks, students from several schools have been working on a special kind of production.

“To me, personally, put the guns down. You know? Put the guns down,” sophomore Karmon Laws said.

That’s the message of Friday night’s performance at Champaign Central High School. Students came together to read through a play about gun violence.

“We can’t just hide away subjects. We have to have them in a way that can be viewed,” sophomore Kalah Weber said. “It’s just great to see theater having a more intentional message rather than just fun music.” 

“Xtigone” by Nambi E. Kelley is a modern adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy, “Antigone.” It follows a Chicago woman whose brothers are killed in a drive-by.

“She decides that one of them should be left un-buried to expose the truth about what’s going on and to create outrage and debate about the issues of gun violence,” co-director and artistic director of Out of Chaos Theatre Paul O’Mahony said. This production was co-directed by Charence Higgins.

O’Mahony said this was a way to start an important conversation.

“They’ve [students] been really enthusiastic – you may be able to hear them in the background now. They’re just such a great group of young people,” he said.

He said the students took the script and made it their own. They’ve been faced with difficult topics in their everyday lives. Gun violence has been steadily on the rise in the community.

“They’re experiencing so much but there’s not too many outlets or too many ways in which they can approach each other, [or] find the words to talk about these things,” U of I associate professor in the Classics Department and organizer Angeliki Tzanetou said.

She said she wanted this experience to be more than adults shaping the conversation about gun violence. She wants students to share how they felt about the play with their peers. Many of them say they’ve never done anything like this before.

“We wanted students who had no prior experience with theatre to come in and get involved with these issues,” she said.

Students said it was a unique opportunity to collaborate with others outside their own school.

“And I really hope to make an impact to help people bring up this topic and address it and handle it in our community,” sophomore Faith Kazadi said.

O’Mahony said this isn’t the end. He hopes to work on similar impactful projects here in the future.