Campus play enacts Philly struggles

A production put together by Temple faculty and students, Shot! observes the city’s social troubles.

A production put together by Temple faculty and students, Shot! observes the city’s social troubles.

The riots that rambled through Philadelphia in 1964 put a bullet hole in the city’s history. With the trigger of a gun, a once prosperous integrated community was no more, ringing in hopelessness and depression.

Shot! unveils North Philadelphia, an account of the past and present reality of urban blight. Associate Theater Professor Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon and Artistic Director Doug Wager are behind the production.

“A lot of people believe that most of the problems in the urban community are the result of the lack of individual motivation,” Witherspoon said.

Through Witherspoon’s research, she found a great deal of challenges these communities face are instead tied to systemic and institutionalized racism.

“Poverty, residential segregation, limited educational and employment opportunities,” Witherspoon said. “All of these conditions work together to exacerbate a cycle of drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, underemployment and gun violence.”

Shot! illuminates reality using poetry, first-person interview and documentary footage. The play revolves around the notion that struggle is concrete, relatable and surrounds us, and it is up to the audience to reach out and pull each other from the grips of apathy.

Shot! grew out of an oral history project funded by Temple interdisciplinary seed grant.

“We hope that the work is compelling and that people will no longer just fear these neighborhoods or view them as the ‘exotic other’ but rather, that we recognize the complexity of issues at hand and that we all have to be in this together,” Witherspoon said. “Temple University is surrounded by a multi-generational, multi-ethnic community, and it is to all our advantage to bridge differences.”  

It’s Philadelphia and the city’s struggles that makes this play hit home. The production allows audience members to move beyond mere recognition, and it enables them to understand how concrete struggles can be.

“Although Shot! is the story of a North Philadelphia neighborhood,” Witherspoon said, “I think its message has resonance for any group of people forced to eke out their existence in an underserved community.”

Priscilla Ward can be reached at

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