It has been more than ten years since the Virginia Tech campus shootings, but the issue of mass school shootings remains at the forefront with recent events in Parkland, Florida. A new play opens at Shea’s Smith Theatre in Buffalo Thursday evening, April 12th, called “Lit 401: A School Shooting in One Act”. WBFO’s senior reporter Eileen Buckley says this play will depict an active shooter on stage and provide a talk-back conversation with the audience.
“It just really shock me as a student - all of a sudden this safe environment - this safe place - didn’t feel so safe anymore,” said Drew Piatek, writer, director and producer.
Piatek was a theater major attending the University at Buffalo at the time of the Virginia Tech shootings. Piatek co-wrote the play with a friend, creating a plot that is perfectly fitting to the current events of today.
“You know any kind of gun violence or violence in schools – it hits a cord with me because I’ve been keeping track, unfortunately,” explained Piatek.
Piatek was on the UB campus the day the shots rang out at Virginia Tech and was disturbed by such a tragedy.
“It’s tough - you know – even though it’s not your campus it feels like the larger community that we can empathize and I think that’s what happened. You know I saw something that happened at another campus and was really shaken by it,” Piatek recalls.
“I think it is a really important piece and I think that it’s a great tool to spark a conversation,” remarked Jessie Miller, UB student.
Miller is the student producer of the show. Miller said she believes this play will launch important community conversations about why this is occurring.
“The most powerful thing is watching the characters and how they start off normally going through out their day and just watching them as the play progresses and how they are effected by their surroundings. It will start out off as a normal day in class and the teacher coming in and getting the class to settle down and then all of a sudden – complete turn of events,” described Miller.
“It’s something that I do worry about on campus, especially with the current climate that we’re in just because it is a very real thing,” remarked Leigh Erin Jass, UB student.
Jass is portraying the character of Sue, described as an abrasive college student going about her normal routine on campus, but ends up in direct danger.
“It’s interesting because it’s one of those things where you can’t predict how you would react until you are put in and that’s a think across the board – if you were put in a life threateing situation you can’t really predict how you would react and my character, specifically reacts in not the smartest way,” Jass explained. “It’s a good example of what you shouldn’t do.”
Powerful events will unfold on stage between with two active shooters emerging. UB freshman Taylor Hall is also playing a student Katie.
“I do come into direct contact with the shooters and I’m interrogated throughout the show – and Katie is not only dealing with just the event itself, but a lot of her own personal life is kind of crumbling throughout the show, she’s learning things she didn’t know before and it’s kind of like a lot of reality checks for her,” Hall said. “The event is really opening her eyes and making her regret a lot of things.
Each of these characters will provide a teachable moment for the audience.
“From an audience perspective – everyone is going to connect with a different character. By playing those different types, every person is going to reach and be like ‘I think I would react in that way’ and that’s something that’s important – we’re trying to connect with the audience and show them this and I think it’s really important that we have those different perspectives,” said Hall.
“I think school shootings is a multifaceted, complicated issue that has many points,” stated Angelo Heimowitz, actor and SUNY Fredonia graduate.
Heimowitz plays the role of a student who turns into the shooter.
“I’m the shooter,” Heimowitz said. “What is it like for you to play such a dark role?” Buckley asked.
“It definitely has its struggles playing the shooter,” responded Heimowitz “Will we know why the shooter is there?”
“Yes. He is very loud and willing to talk about why he is there and the reasons behind it and he has a message that he wants to say,” replied Heimowitiz.
This play comes with a parental warning – it has very difficult content, but the director/producer said he is encouraging high school students to attend. Talk backs will follow each show. It will give the community a chance to discuss their views. This disturbing topic will offer society a chance to think deeply and face reality in searching for solutions.
“We all come from a place of opposing views. We want the same solution, so it’s about coming together for those opposing views in the hopes we can find a solution together – as a community,” Hemowitz stated.
The play is on stage April 12th through Sunday, April 15th.