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Martín Zimmerman's play, 'On the Exhale,' explores gun violence in America

Marin Ireland in Martín Zimmerman's play,
Marin Ireland in Martín Zimmerman's play, "On the Exhale."
Roundabout Theatre

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More than 800 cities worldwide — and millions of demonstrators — are expected to participate in  “March For Our Lives” this weekend, a protest advocating for gun control and honoring those lost to gun violence.

In solidarity with the marches, the streaming platform Broadway HD will this weekend offer free viewings of the play, “On the Exhale," written by Martín Zimmerman.

The play, a solo performance starring Marin Ireland, explores the complexity of gun control in America and the cyclical nature of violence. Zimmerman wrote the play in an effort to understand the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in 2012, where 26 children and educators were killed. His play had an acclaimed run last year at the Roundabout Theatre in New York City.

John Horn spoke with Zimmerman recently about his process of creating the play and the ongoing national gun crisis. 

Interview Highlights 

On what motivated him to write "On the Exhale":

I began writing this play about three months after Sandy Hook, or at least I got the idea for it. I think the genesis of the play was a kind of despair and rage after such an accumulation of devastating mass shootings, and just in general devastating gun violence incidents that happen all the time throughout many cities in this country. The accumulation of that, and feeling that our government was totally unwilling to do anything about it, frankly came from a place of despair, of feeling like nothing was going to happen. And the seed of this play was the rage that despair sparked. 

On how the personal and the political work in partnership:

That is a fine line that I try to walk in all of my work — to show how our inability to make certain changes on a social level and on a governmental level do have deep, deep effect on people in their daily lives and interactions. The key for me for this play is to make sure that people really sit inside the emotion of her grief before the play and the story even begins, to address in a more head-on manner the social and governmental aspect of how our society refuses to do anything about this. 

On the ease with which the play's character is able to purchase a rifle:

I have not purchased a firearm, but having read a series of articles from journalists who have tried to purchase firearms, and talking about the process they have to go through, I think it was really important to be as vivid and detailed as possible in that way so people could understand the specificity ... I don't want to say we weren't trying to make a point, because obviously we are making a point by showing how easy it is. But we're not trying to exaggerate or distort anything. We're trying to be quite clinical with that part of the play — the most important part of the play to me. We're never going to effectively enact gun control or stem the flow of gun violence in this country if we can't also understand why people feel such deep emotional attachment to these machines. 

On the themes that "On the Exhale" shares with those participating in March For Our Lives:  

I think about how widespread the fear of gun violence is in our country ... not just how widespread it is in terms of individuals, but also how widespread it is in terms of people who fear becoming a victim of gun violence in a space we would have thought was relatively safe five or 10 years ago. I have met a lot of people who say that any time they're in a public space they fear becoming a victim of gun violence. Any public space. So I think that takes the ability for everyone to look at each other and say, This is a huge problem because it is something that I wrestle with in almost every moment of my life. This is unacceptable.  

“On the Exhale" will be available for free on March 24-25 on the streaming platform 

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