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MINNEAPOLIS – A new play aimed at gun violence in young people takes the stage in area schools starting Monday, but it might be surprising about who is behind the production.

The play is being produced by actors and staff of the Mixed Blood Theatre of Minneapolis, but the message is coming from county government.

"Stars and Stripes" is the latest theatrical brainchild of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who funded another production in 1990s, also directed at young people and gun violence. Freeman's office helped produce "Gun Play," a production Freeman credits with helping cut into gun crimes involving Minnesota youth.

"People say 'Where does the money come from to pay for this?'" said Freeman. "This comes from drug forfeiture money. When we bust a druggie, we seize their drugs, their sawed-off shotguns and we seize the ill-gotten gains they made from that. What better could we do with that money than educate our youth about gun violence?"

The production is costing $40,000 to $50,000, with no tax dollars involved. Freeman enlisted the help of Playwright Syl Jones and Mixed Blood Artistic Director Jack Reuler who had helped to construct "Gun Play" 20 years earlier.

"I wrote Stars and Stripes as a video game for kids that is enacted on stage," explained Syl Jones. "It raises the question of who or what is behind this game. The kids are playing and the highlights the long term consequences for the individuals who play it."

The youthful three-person cast consists of Nathan Barlow, Michael Hanna and Meghan Kreidler, directed by local theater veteran Randy Reyes. They deliver no-holds-barred lines about bullying, rape, exchange of bodily fluids and gun death. All of it is acted out while the actors find themselves inside a video game with a voice directing their movements.

"It was really an opportunity, once again, to use theater as a catalyst to diminish social plagues and to eliminate the isms that burden the country," said Reuler.

"Stars and Stripes" premiers Monday at 8:30 and 10:15 a.m. at Southwest High School in Minneapolis.

Subsequent productions will occur at Sage Academy and Northwest Middle School in Brooklyn Park on March 4 and 5, St. Louis Park High School on March 7 and several other schools in Minneapolis, Bloomington, Minnetonka and Richfield.

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