Over the last 4 years, the vast majority of Stone Soup's outreach has been devoted to violence prevention. I was able to build and develop relationships with community organizers and outreach workers that have devoted their lives to this work and were affected by gun and gang violence in some way. The sheer volume of things I learned was extraordinary: the territories of gangs and the subgroups that grew out of them, the historical and systemic factors that caused and continue to perpetuate the problem, and how this discord unfolds on a neighborhood level. What interested me most were the outreach workers on the front lines, trying to develop relationships with high-risk and at-risk individuals. It was a job fraught with the most polarizing of ups and downs. One day, a peace treaty could be reached between conflicting groups and the next, they could be organizing a vigil for a fallen client.
To make matters worse, these workers were fractured in their own ways, having been involved in various gangs themselves in their youth. Their backgrounds that made them uniquely qualified to do this work simultaneously carried a great deal of baggage, all while being tasked with keeping a large number of clients out of trouble. They were completely invested in them which made these jobs hurt so much more when things went wrong.
During this time, I was challenged by Artistic Director Whitney Jones and Managing Director Alexandra Keels to develop a project that blended aspects of our art and outreach. After much time and consideration, I felt we needed to have a medium that was conducive to telling an ongoing story. Then it hit me: a web series.
I started developing the series from June to September 2014 with Acting Studio Chicago, then proceeded to bring Travis aboard as co-writer in December 2014, as I was a great admirer of his theatrical works. I conducted more in-depth, boots-on-the-ground research with violence prevention specialists to further explore this world. Travis and I together worked for months after that, discussing the research and initial episodes I developed, and he took all of that initial work and completed an exceptional draft of the first season that we are incredibly excited about.
The opportunity to tell our story from this perspective is incredibly humbling and we hope to create a piece of work that is relevant, affecting, and keeps the conversation going so that we may find solutions that help those most vulnerable to violence in our communities.