Sinclair’s Theater Department will be performing “Bang Bang You’re Dead” on Thursday, Feb. 6 at 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.; a play about the 1998 Thurston High School shooting that was originally performed by the Thurston High School’s drama department a year after the shooting, which took the lives of two classmates and injured 25 others, as well as the gunman, Kip Kinkel’s, parents.
The play has been performed three previous times by the Sinclair Theater Department and this year’s show will mark the fourth. This year’s show will be close to the six month anniversary of the Oregon District shooting in downtown Dayton and the two-year anniversary of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, which took place in Parkland, Florida.
Shortly after the Parkland shooting in 2018, the students in Sinclair’s theater department wanted to do something so they decided to work on “Bang Bang, You’re Dead” and present it on the one month anniversary of the Parkland shooting.
The second showing, April 20, 2018, happened to be National School Walkout Day, an event in response to the Parkland shooting set on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. The performers participated in the walkout and then put on the play afterward.
The third performance was on Feb. 14, 2019, the one year anniversary of the Parkland shooting.
“Centers for learning should be leading these discussions,” said Gina Neuerer, a professor and chair of Sinclair’s Theater Department. “Not just starting in high school and college. We need to be listening to what our children have to say and empowering them to ask questions and have conversations around things like gun violence and sexual assault, and live theatre is an excellent way to bring this awareness and start these conversations.”
The play was written by William Mastrosimone, with assistance from Michael Fisher, Director of the Thurston High School Drama Department in Springfield, Oregon. Mastrosimone is an American playwright from Trenton, New Jersey who wrote the play in the wake of three school shootings; the Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon on May 21, 1998, Heat High School in Paducah, Kentucky on December 4, 1997, and Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas on March 23, 1998.
The play was at one time able to be downloaded off the internet and has quite often been performed by high schools ever since. Of the play, Mastrosimone, intended it to be able to be performed in “any modest playing areas” and it required no sets, nor costumes as the actors could typically dress in contemporary clothing. It was, in theory, intended to be an easy play to perform for high schools as a way to talk about the big, terrifying subject of school shootings.
“It is extremely important to be honest about the events around us, lest history repeats itself due to ignorance,” said Austin Vega, an assistant director for the play. “The arts have to remain honest because I think the arts have a responsibility of sorts to give a voice to the voiceless and speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves. With ‘Bang, Bang, You’re Dead’ the playwright is allowing us to hear the perspective of victims of (school) gun violence and hear the impact on their and the family lives.”
According to Mastrosimone, the play was inspired by an event at his son’s school, in which a student had written a violent diatribe on a school chalkboard, inferring he intended to kill his classmates and the teacher, and sought to seek out the abstruse nature of such acts of violence.
“I believe that it is important for schools to put on performances dealing with rough topics, especially the topics that are relevant today,” said Christopher Koehler, theater major and one of the performers in the play. “With being a part of this production, in particular, it really opened my eyes to not only the effects of gun violence but how often shootings occur.”
“It is a scary thought, but if we just act like nothing like these events happen,” continued Koehler. “Then it’s just swept under the rug and it won’t be stopped. Spreading awareness and showing to people, especially young adults who are so influential, will help them realize not only that these events can happen, but also how to prevent them.”
The shows will be free admission, as was the original intent as a way for the play to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible.
“I feel if any theater is free, it’s worth watching,” said Koehler. “But particularly with this play, it is important due to the most recent history of this city. The play at its core has a lot of shock value, but it is really interesting in how it shows signs of violence, as a student goes from your average everyday student then slipping down a path that unfortunately leads to him taking the lives of his fellow students.”
According to the FBI, there have been 42 “active shooter” incidents between 2000 and 2018, and along with tornado and fire drills, many schools in the U.S. now practice “active shooter” drills as a way to prepare for such instances.
There were 417 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2019, according to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), a non-profit that tracks mass shootings, thirty-one of which were mass murders.
Sinclair’s Theater Department has tackled a bevy of difficult topics this year, with shows like “Refugees” which will be showing in early April at the Black Box Theater and “Slut” which played back in mid-November also at the Black Box Theater.
“Sinclair Theatre & Dance has been doing these type of plays for many years,” Neuerer said. “Sometimes as part of our regular season, but often we add in a production as an immediate reaction to local and national events.”
“It is important as part of their education, that Theatre Majors learn that they can use their art for activism and to reach their community in a unique way,” said Neuerer. “And it is an integral part of the mission of Sinclair Music, Theatre & Dance to provide our community with accessible, quality performing arts.”