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Play explores school violence, shootings

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A cast of 12 middle and high school students has taken on serious subject — the issue of school violence and school shootings.

“Bang Bang, You’re Dead” will be performed by The Singers Studio Small Stage Productions this week.

“All these kids came in and they were hungry to get to do this because it’s a big part of their lives,” said David Winstead, director of the play. “It’s something they go to school with every day. You hope nothing ever happens, but in their world, it is a reality that could happen any day, and they know that. It is important to them to get to tackle something this meaty, this powerful, this important to them.”

Winstead said the play was written by William Mastrosimone.

“The original version of the show was written in 1999 and premiered in Oregon in the same high school where a school shooting happened in 1998, a year previously,” Winstead said. “Mastrosimone actually lived in that Oregon town and produced that first show.”

Winstead said the play’s theme is universal.

“We are still sitting here 20 years later, and it is still important,” Winstead said. “A new version of the script has continued to develop over those 20 years. He continues to make additions and rewrites and what not. This version is from 2011 and 2012, which is the last time he made a major update to it.”

Winstead said the message is hard to get to the core of because it doesn’t try to put the blame on anything in particular, and blame is really out of the script.

“It just kind of explores the things and the pressures that sometimes lead to this and the impact that it has on the world and the other students around,” Winstead said.

The whole show takes place in the head of the school shooter after an incident while he is in his jail cell.

“He is being haunted by the five students that he killed,” Winstead said.

The play explores the events leading up to the shooting and explores the things in his head that led to the violent act.

Wilsonians may remember this play as it was performed by the Arts Council of Wilson in 2000 and 2001.

Winstead said he auditioned 30 actors to come up with the cast of 12- to 18-year-olds.

Cast members include Sam Stevens, Alyssa Linnane, Jordan Warren, Rowan Bennett, Nick Froats, Kylie Stott, Zy’Miracle Kearney, Luke Parrish, Emersen Fitch, Sarah Joyner, Kaitlyn Spruill, Jaidan Payne.

Crew members include Emma Beneck, Hannah McLaughlin, Lindsey Vaughan, Alex Guyton-Lange, Macaylee Wiggs and Abbigale Norris.

“They have come at it from a serious point, but we have really been afraid to let ourselves laugh and to keep ourselves from getting too heavy. The show does the same thing,” he said. “It’s not just hitting you over the head with a hammer of sad, sad, sad, this is bad, this is bad. It holds onto the idea that life is still good, even when all these terrible things happening.”

Winstead said there is not target audience.

“We think that this is something that everyone can benefit from seeing,” Winstead said. “The only restriction we are putting out there is we don’t recommend it for those under age 12, just because it is intense.”

Winstead said the actors have maintained a high standard.

Sam Stevens, a 17-year-old Fike High School student, plays the main character and the shooter in the play.

“In sixth grade when Sandy Hook happened was when I really found out about school shootings and the violence that could possibly happen at school,” Sam said. “There aren’t really a lot of threats in Wilson County because everybody is so close knit.”

Sam said it only takes that one person to make a difference to change everybody’s lives.

“I encourage many high schoolers to come see it because they might know that kid in school who has been struggling with either depression, bullying or their home life. I courage them to come to see it to learn that it is okay to talk to someone,” Sam said. “It is okay to get these feelings out. You don’t have to keep everything inside.”

“We have kept it in a safe place because to challenge ourselves without letting ourselves get too deep into any material to where it gets dangerous for any performer,” Winstead said. “There is a danger whenever we delve into any of these darker, heavier emotions, that sometimes a performer can have it bleed through their regular lives to not be able to fully come out of that darker, heavier place.

“We want to give that to the audience but we don’t want the actors to live in that for an extended period of time to cause them to not be happy and their normal selves. It’s a danger especially for young performers, and that’s a real balance that I was keeping an eye on from day one, but that by talking to them they were able to keep an eye on themselves, which has been really nice.”

Winstead said he always makes sure there is a time at the end of rehearsal “to breathe, to talk, just to let it all out and get back to normal before we walk out the door.”

THE PERFORMANCES

Elizabeth Winstead, owner of The Singers Studio, at 134 Tarboro Street, said performance are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

“It is a free performance, but we are asking folks to please reserve their tickets in advance because we have very limited seating here in the studio, and we can’t promise there will be seats available if they just show up at the door,” said Elizabeth Winstead, producer of the show.

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