INDEPENDENCE — The play isn’t until January, but already Central High School’s production class is causing some waves.
“People don’t like being uncomfortable, especially the majority of people in this small town,” said Reba Hoffman. “Already, the idea that this show is happening is making people uncomfortable.”
The class will perform, “Bang, Bang, You’re Dead,” a play by William Mastroimone loosely based on the Thurston High School shooting.
“This is a creative way to bring this to the community and students that’s more acceptable,” Hoffman said. “These scary things can happen.”
The play was cast during spring term, said Jeff Witt, teacher of the production class, well before the mass casualty shooting in Roseburg.
Those events gave students a firmer resolve that, complaints or not, the show must go on.
They realized that a mass shooting could happen anywhere.
Witt said he wanted to do a play that was darker and edgier than shows he had done in the past. “Bang, Bang,” has a personal connection to him, as a college friend of his had parents who worked at Thurston high when the shooting happened.
“It’s not a sit-back, hum-along kind of show,” Witt said. “It’s good for people to be challenged. No one thought it would happen in Roseburg or Sandy Hook.”
The play explores what happens to normal kids to take them to a dark place, driven to commit an act such as killing their classmates, Witt said.
“There’s not a lot of solutions in the show,” he said. “A lot is left up to the audience.”
The point is not to glorify violence, said Rynn Hastings.
“We forget that empathy is such a huge thing,” she said, adding that when a threat at Central spread across social media in October, people were joking about the person accused of starting it, laughing and making fun, which just made matters worse.
Although the threat was later found not to be credible, but still had students and their parents on guard and worried or afraid.
“That’s when I thought about this show,” Hastings said. “You learn what a person has to go through. I’ve never been more excited to do a show until now. I hope we raise awareness.”
Other students echoed Hastings’ excitement.
Jacob Eschette said the play is not about a specific thing, but more about the big picture of society, especially high-school mentality.
“High schoolers have in their mind these social constructs,” he said. “In reality, we’re all people trying to fit in. Josh (the shooter in the play) is very much portrayed as a disturbed person. He’s reached a point in his mind where everyone is against him. You become dark — there are no justifications — but there are things we can do as a society to help stop people from getting to that place.”
The play shows how bullying can stack up and take its toll on someone. Students hope the play will get people talking about it and talking about how to change it.
Superintendent Buzz Brazeau said the play will help the discussion of serious topics.
“The idea is to bring the idea of bullying and all the things we’re concerned with about kids to light and get them to understand, in the video game, you can push reset, and in real life, you can’t,” Brazeau said. “I’m really proud of the kids. We had to look at that with some sleepless nights. When I see the kids excited to get the message out to help themselves, I salute them for taking on a tough topic.”
He said the topic was made tougher by the shooting in Roseburg and the threat at Central, “but in some ways, more important.”
That responsibility to tackle the issues is at the top of the minds of the young actors.
They hope to raise awareness of not just shootings, but increasing empathy for others and decreasing bullying.