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“Division: The Trayvon/Jordan Project” is a 90-minute play comprising the collected interviews of Florida residents following the shooting death of black teens Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis. The docudrama was written by John DiDonna. Video by Bernard Wilchusky

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The contemplative silence of the UCF Art Gallery was shattered by cries of rage, confusion and anguish as student actors relived the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis shootings.

The actors — 13 students from Valencia College — were participating in a Tuesday-evening performance of the docudrama Division: The Trayvon/Jordan Project. The dialogue of the play was collected in its entirety from interviews of the family, officials and communities who were affected by the deaths of the 17-year-old black teenagers in 2012.

Playwright John DiDonna, chairman of Valencia College’s theater program, said he was inspired to write Division after realizing that he, a Sanford resident, was part of the community that changed following Martin’s death.

“I’m sitting there one day — I live in Sanford — and this is all happening all around me,” he said. “I kept going, ‘Why am I not doing something? What can I do, what can I do? I know — I can write a play.’”

He chose to base the Division’s dialogue on actual interviews and testimonies as a means to capture the tone of the discourse that was circulating throughout Florida at the time.

“The first thing that struck me is I did not want to write a play with my opinion. I wanted to write a play of the opinions of the people who were involved with this,” he said.

His research led him to Francis Oliver, the mother of the Martin family attorney and the founder and curator of the Goldsboro Westside Historical Museum. Goldsboro was a community founded by African Americans in 1891, but was annexed by Sanford in 1911, according to the museum website.

Oliver said that racial tensions in Sanford are higher now than they’ve been since that contentious annexation over a century ago.

“People had just begin to come together and want to move Sanford forwards as a community — not just as a black community or a white community, but a community. But then Trayvon Martin happened, and it put us back 100 years,” she said.

Yulia Tinkhova, director of the UCF Art Gallery, met Oliver while doing research for the gallery’s latest show, The Encounter: Baalu Girma and Zora Neale Hurston. Oliver was the lynchpin that connected the gallery’s upcoming exhibition about Hurston, who exemplified Sanford’s past, and Martin, who became the tragic symbol of its recent present.

“The exhibition is about Zora Neale Hurston, who lived in Sanford,” Tinkhova said. “I met Francis Oliver in Sanford, and she knew a lot about Sanford too. We decided to connect Sanford and the gallery — the rest is history.”

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Bernard Wilchusky is the Editor-in-Chief of the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter @cameradudeman or email him at BernardW@centralfloridafuture.com.

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