Confronting violence, Durango Herald, Feb. 15, 2008

Students of the Pagosa Springs High School Drama Club rehearse “Bang, Bang, You’re Dead” by William Mastrosimone on Wednesday . The play about gun violence in schools will be performed Saturday. The student in the center is Tyler Carpenter, who plays the lead character. Becca Stephens is standing in the back.

• Heath High School, West Paducah, Ky.

• Westside Middle School, Jonesboro, Ark.

• Lincoln County High School, Fayetteville, Tenn.

• Thurston High School, Springfield, Ore.

• Columbine High School, Littleton.

• Heritage High School, Conyers, Ga.

• Santana High School, Santee, Calif.

• Henry Foss High School, Tacoma, Wash.

These are just a few of the schools across America in which teens have shot and killed their peers at school.

Since 1996, there have been 40 recorded incidents of shootings in and around schools, according to crime data recorded by the Web site infoplease.com.

“Bang, Bang, You’re Dead” is a play written by William Mastrosimone in an effort to end violence among teenagers. The play centers on Josh, a teenage boy who shoots his parents and five schoolmates, and is then haunted by physical manifestations of his memories of them.

Josh is based on Kip Kinkel, the 15-year-old who killed his parents and two classmates, and wounded 25 other students at Thurston High School in Oregon.

Mastrosimone’s play was performed for the first time April 9, 1999, just 11 days before the Columbine High School shootings. The Pagosa Springs High School Drama Club will perform it again Saturday.

Director Dale Morris said this week that she and the students selected the play believing that the benefits of putting this work out there far outweigh the risks. But she admits it’s a difficult production.

Tyler Carpenter, a junior at Pagosa High School, plays Josh. The lanky teen sports a multi-shaded, multi-length punk hair cut and speaks with wisdom beyond his years.

“My character is something I’ve been trying to distance myself from,” Carpenter said at rehearsal Wednesday night. “He’s stuck up and ignorant about a lot of what people go through in real life. He doesn’t think about how what he does is going to affect others. He has a very twisted view of the universe.”

Carpenter said he uses music to help him get into the mode for playing his character. He hears the anger in lyrics. It’s the same music he listens to, but the difference comes from his mood. For Carpenter, music is an escape and a release. When getting ready to play Josh, he said: “I can amplify those feelings of hatred and misunderstanding.”

The play has touched each of the 14 students in the production.

“I get to breaking points,” Hilary Matzdorf said. “The people that do this are normal. It can happen to anyone.”

“I don’t know,” Emmi Greer said. “I don’t have any first-hand or second-hand experience with violence. But this production has made me assess myself and how I would face a situation like this. It’s intense. It’s noxious. It doesn’t go away. Things in real life will remind you of things in the play. It’s like it really happened.”

“You see and take away everything they (the characters) could have been and everything they lost in losing their lives,” Ashley Iverson said.

And while they have mixed feelings about the subject matter, all of the students are clear in what they hope the audience will take away from the production, particularly their peers who will attend a performance next week during school.

“We want to get it to be perceived as something real,” Jeff Readon said. “Not just as something you can laugh off.”

Student Becca Stephens said: “It’s not like we are going to end violence. But our hope is that people are reminded of what happened. We can have a lasting impact.”

And Rhain Harris said: “I want people to think about this play for more than just the car ride home.”

I bet they will.

If you go

“Bang, Bang, You’re Dead,” 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Pagosa High School Auditorium, free but donations appreciated.

artsjournalist@centurytel.netLeanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the arts.

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