I have been an Artistic Director and stage director for almost four decades. I started my own theater company in Alaska called Perseverance Theater when I was 26, dragging 50 used theater seats across the country. I am now Artistic Director of Arena Stage in Washington DC, one of the foremost theaters in America. There have been many times when I have leaned in to make my dreams and the dreams of artists concrete. However, recently, I leaned into an area completely outside of my professional life: gun control politics.
On Dec. 14, 2012, my partner Suzanne, an activist, and I were on a train heading home from New York when we learned of the horrific news of the Newtown, CT, massacre. We were shocked and terrified. After a few moments, Suzanne said: “Someone needs to do a march.”
I posted the idea on Facebook, and many responded in agreement. By the next day, Suzanne and I had decided we needed to step forward to lead the march rather than wait for someone else. We leaned in and brought our bodies to the truth. Hundreds began signing on to the effort: Facebook friends, colleagues from Suzanne’s professional circles and mine at Arena Stage, neighbors and many others.
We moved fast. We wanted the march to take place as quickly as possible because, as the ancient Greeks tell us, the sorrow of being human is that we forget quickly—and we cannot forget Sandy Hook Elementary School. Three months would be too long to wait. Two months would be too long. We needed to act instead of just talking. We wanted to bring our bodies and our minds and our souls to this work. There was only a small window of time for change, and we were in that special moment.
People asked, “Why you, Molly? You’re a theater person. Why is gun control your issue?” My answer: Gun control is everyone’s issue.
I am not a mother. I am not a teacher. I am not a policy person. I am not a safety expert. But none of that mattered. I had to act. The victims at Sandy Hook were everyone’s children. The victims of gun violence in the United States are everyone’s mothers, everyone’s fathers, everyone’s brothers and sisters.
This was an act of citizenship. We marched for common-sense gun legislation: to reinstate the assault-weapons ban, to forbid high-capacity magazines, to enforce a 28-day waiting period for gun purchases, to require background checks and gun-safety training, to outlaw bullets that shatter in the body.
We organized the march in one months’ time, facing obstacles and challenges, from insurance to online intimidation tactics, to fundraising. In the end, though, everything came through and the march was a complete success on January 26, 2013. We had around 6,000 marchers, including 100 people from Newtown and elected officials, and received coverage in 620 media outlets, with no negative incidents.
Sometimes, leaning in means leaning outside of business-as-usual. We organized the march like a theatrical production with music, strong optics, poetry and speeches. It felt good to apply what I know in the world of theater to affect change in an area that was completely new to me, that I felt passionately about, and for a cause I was willing to put myself on the line for.
Leaning in means stepping up to the plate, regardless of fear. It actually means being fully oneself.