Empty black chairs lined the stage of the Paramount Mainstage on Monday, one for each of the people slain by a gunman at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday morning, in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The Paramount was opened to the public Monday afternoon, June 13, for a silent vigil in memory of the 49 men and women, many of them LGBTQ and many of them Latino/a, who were killed at Pulse nightclub by Omar Mateen. Another 50-plus people were injured in the attack.
The vigil was organized by the Office of the Arts, steward of Emerson’s theaters.
“It was truly an open room,” said Kevin Becerra, artistic engagement manager for the Office of the Arts, who said he stayed for about an hour on Monday. “I think for some people it was a productive time. I think for others, it seemed it was just important emotionally or just important to disrupt their days a little bit and just reflect.”
In an email to the Emerson community on Monday morning, President Lee Pelton shared his thoughts on the violence in Orlando and on gun control, an issue on which he has taken a leadership role.
“Once again, the Emerson community and our nation stand united against the hate fueled by intolerance, discrimination, and the indiscriminate killing of innocents. Once again, the Emerson community and our nation gather to mourn victims of a senseless mass shooting enabled by irresponsible and unacceptable laws that allow individuals to purchase and own military grade assault weapons,” Pelton wrote.
This wasn’t the first time the Office of the Arts has lined an Emerson stage with black chairs to mourn. A similar vigil was held at the Cutler Majestic Theatre last June after nine people were gunned down in an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Becerra said.
Robert Amelio, director of diversity and inclusive excellence, attended the vigil and described it as “lovely.”
“It was sad, it was striking, it was serious. But it was also lovely to sit in this theater and look at this stage with empty chairs,” Amelio said.
“It was a lovely, lovely, lovely thing to do. You could make it whatever you needed to make it,” he said.
Amelio said in the wake of a tragedy like what happened in Orlando, it’s important for people to keep talking to each other. They can also talk to professionals at Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services (ext. 8595).
The Division of Diversity and Inclusion sent out an email on Thursday, June 16, listing the names and ages of the dead and acknowledging that they are “struggling to find a way forward” from the shooting, but “affirm[ing their] commitment” to make Emerson “safe and supportive” for all.
“Today, we affirm our commitment to embodying and advancing social justice both at Emerson and in the larger community for ensuring equity, the redistribution of power, and inclusion,” the division wrote. “We also commit to creating and sustaining safe spaces for the Emerson Community and the communities outside of the College wherever we are. We seek to reclaim spaces as safe and supportive places where everyone is treated with respect, dignity, and an ethic of care.”
To that end, Diversity and Inclusion is hosting a Brown Bag Luncheon on Friday, June 17, 11:30 am–1:00 pm, on the tenth floor of the Walker Building.
Becerra said he hopes people are able to heal from the emotional trauma without becoming numb to the horror.
Since Sunday, he’s noticed people checking in with each other more, asking how they’re feeling and making sure everyone’s O.K.
“I hope that we continue to check in with each other,” he said. “It’s something that may, as time passes, become less present at the front of the mind, but I hope the feeling that we’re invested in each other stays.”
Just ten days before the Orlando shooting, the marquees of the Paramount and Majestic were illuminated to raise awareness of gun violence as part of the national Wear Orange campaign.