On the morning of November 21, several cast members from the upcoming Young Professionals play columbinus met at Benson Polytechnic High School to present a reading of three scenes to Mr. Weiner’s Street Law class. The class had been learning about constitutional rights, so the scenes from columbinus presented a creative way to discuss the second amendment—which includes the right to bear arms—and its implications for our society and especially our students.
The class began with the introduction of the YPs and a reading of the scenes, which included a classroom scene where a student, “Loner,” presents an essay with violent content to his class, a scene where another student, “Freak,” meets with a counselor who fails to make a connection, and a scene in which the two students, who are revealed to be the shooters in the Columbine High School massacre, discuss the concept of death and their plans for the destruction of their school. The script for columbinus excerpts text from the actual event, including journal transcripts from the shooters, providing a realistic frame for the staged depiction of the tragedy.
After the reading, the floor was opened to discussion between students, teachers, and actors. The students were interested in how the actors prepared emotionally to take on these roles. Their responses revealed not only the preparation, but also why the work was important to them on a personal level and how they came to be actors:
“It’s actually stuff like this that made me want to get into acting, because I always saw theatre as a way to teach and learn—the power that these worlds and these stories have to educate is fantastic. From the moment I first saw a staged production, I knew that I wanted to be a part of something this great. It’s an honor for me to even be working on a production like this.”
- Emma Younger
“If you have that in you, that desire to tell stories like this that belong to people and that you know are going to be important to people, then that’s where it’s at.”
- Thom Hilton
The performers also highlighted the idea of compassion in the play; that any student could be pushed to the edge as Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were when they killed their classmates and themselves in 1999.
“Throughout the show, we have all these monologues that not only give you an insight into who those characters are, but also emphasize the fact that being a teenager can be really lonely. No matter what your social status is, you’re going to have those moments where you feel scared and alone and that can turn into anger. That darkness is relatable, and it’s scary to think, ‘Wow, I was feeling lonely too, and if something had been different, this could have been me, where I felt like my only way out was to create something so horrifying—that I could only be relevant by doing this.’”
- Amber Mitchell
The conversation then shifted to gun access and the laws surrounding gun use in America. While opinions on gun regulation differed widely between students, guest teacher Joel Andrew, a law student at Lewis & Clark College, emphasized that the most important thing was that students strive to appreciate all perspectives and gather their facts before making a stand:
“Some people argue that [the right to bear arms] is directly related to school shootings, some people say that we should still own guns because we want to be able to stop these things—that by having guns they’re combatting school shootings. This is the dialogue. But the goal of this whole thing is to bring home that rights affect your life. Laws affect our lives daily. And we can make changes—we voted just a few weeks ago. We can affect these things, whether or not we should be allowed to bring guns into school. Listen to each other’s perspectives, and ask why!”
Recent proposals to allow teachers to carry guns in schools evoked passionate response from some students:
“That’s a terrible decision—if there are certain students who feel so outcast that they think they have to make this big, violent statement to be remembered, they will know that teachers have guns, and they will find a way to get them and make the important mark they think they need to make. You can’t bring the thing that’s hurting people into the place where they’re supposed to be protected.”
“I’d rather ya fail me than shoot me. I talk so much that my teacher would shoot me in my mouth!”
“It’s a real thing, we’re all people, and we can all have situations where we’re pressured to go to that limit, so a teenager in school is just as likely to get pressured and pushed as a teacher. A person with a gun is a person with a gun.”
There were also questions raised about when gun ownership is appropriate: When you’re defending your home? As a soldier or police officer? One student wanted to be able to defend his loved ones in a crisis if the police or National Guard couldn’t step in. Another student said that she was so uncomfortable around guns that she wouldn’t come to school if she knew people had them.
Eventually, students circled back around the foundation of the play and agreed that violence is a problem for all of us to consider: not how to treat the symptom of gun use in violent acts, but to find a cure for the disease of stereotyping that makes students feel trapped in the first place.
“[In the show,] there’s AP, Prep, Rebel, Perfect, Faith, Jock, Freak, and Loner. All these stereotypes are things that we see every day.”
- Isaiah Rosales
“It makes it instantly uncomfortable because we all know that these were people who existed, so to watch this play and say, ‘ these were people who lived this, who died through this’ and they’re just being labeled as the stereotypes that we’re confronting every day, is a really disturbing and interesting choice on the writer’s part.”
- Thom Hilton
“It pulls back the curtain, and you discover that all these kids are human, like you.”
- Emma Younger
Students expressed their desire to see a change, not just in gun laws, but in how they interacted with each other in the halls at school. Even smiling at another person, or asking how their day is going, can make a difference and help students feel that others care about them. Students and actors alike hope to inspire others to look past the stereotypes and recognize that everyone deserves to be treated kindly.
columbinus opens on April 10, 2015. For performance times and tickets click HERE
If your school or classroom is interested in having a visit from the columbinus cast, contact Sharon at firstname.lastname@example.org
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