On a sunny spring afternoon, Seattle’s Ballard High School’s darkened auditorium is filled with theater students rehearsing lines, sneaking in a quick dinner and catching up on homework. But now, it’s time to rehearse scenes. Griffin Taylor, a sophomore, takes center stage and lies down surrounded by a group angrily shouting, “Why me?” Taylor’s character is in a prison cell. The people yelling are portraying his victims: students killed in a school shooting.
Bang Bang You’re Dead is a one-act play written by William Mastrosimone that is partly based on the 1998 shootings at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon. A second one-act play, Eric LaRue by Brett Neveu, is a fictionalized account of a mother named Janice, who is coping with the aftermath of a shooting in which her son killed three classmates. Both plays are part of the school theater group’s yearlong exploration of societal issues.
The complexity of staging both plays speaks to the gravity of an issue that impacts the students’ day-to-day reality. “Gun violence and this narrative of school shootings, or intruders in this school, have been prevalent throughout my school experience,” says assistant director Lillie Wirth, a Ballard High School junior.
Taking on the issue of school shootings through theater, the students say, allows audiences to connect with the emotional impact of such tragedies.
“This is not the way it's always been,” says Wirth. “And this is not the way it will always be.”