UNCA drama department prepares for emotional play

Tina Scruggs and Cory A. Thompson – cscrugg1@unca.edu and coryetc@gmail.com – Staff Writers

Photo courtesy of the UNCA drama department Adam Wise (left) and Keegan Bates (right) play school shooters in the drama department’s newest production, “columbinus.”
Photo courtesy of the UNCA drama department
Adam Wise (left) and Keegan Bates (right) play school shooters in the drama department’s newest production, “columbinus.”

UNC Asheville’s drama department deals with difficult issues in its next play, “columbinus,” which focuses on two distraught teenage boys, a school shooting and the resulting aftermath.

Adam Wise plays Freak, one of the main characters. Wise said his role challenges him. His last part was a supporting character in “Spring Awakening.”

“I’ve never had the chance to play anything like this before, so it’s been a good stretch and it’s an important story,” Wise said. “I’ve never had to be so emotional, like go on an emotional roller coaster like that. And I’ve never had to play a psychopath.”

According to Wise, playing a psychopath does not put him in a great mood. He leaves the character behind at the theater in order to maintain his sanity.

“I’m not a violent person, so getting to the place where you’re so angry and you hate everything and you just think that the world should essentially have a reset button – getting into that mindset is kind of difficult,” Wise said.

In the moment, playing the part is fine, but when Wise steps off the stage, he said he feels as though he essentially just did everything his character did.

“Sometimes I try not to go so deep into it, but you kind of just – you have to. Or at least pretend to,” Wise said.

After doing some research, Wise said he decided Columbine is something where he feels bad for everyone involved in the situation.

“You can’t excuse their actions, but they’re just kind of sad individuals and Eric is just a complete psychopath, but he was still a 17-year-old kid,” Wise said.

Sean Preston, a freshman who plays Jock, said the play has an important message for its viewers.

“It just reinforces that we aren’t here to necessarily entertain. We are not here to make people laugh. We’re here to give a message and show people that these things happen and that we want to prevent them and how,” Preston said.

Preston said he hopes when people see the play, the details of the aftermath and what happens, it will spread knowledge of school shootings. He also hopes it will encourage more education on the subject to prevent the situation from happening in the future.

“I know there was one that happened, maybe two that have happened since we started rehearsal. They were either attempted or they definitively happened,” Preston said.

Preston said coming into a college theater is like diving into a whole new world. In high school, his theater did not attempt any plays nearly as heavy as “columbinus.”

“It’s almost like a culture shock jumping into this new world that has all these expectations as well as learning all these new things and balancing it with this really heavy play that has this great message. It’s an eye-opening experience,” Preston said.

Anna Reidenbach, a theater student and the stage manager for “columbinus,” said to deal with the important issues in the play, Act 3 consists of a discussion with Ann Weber, a retired faculty member from the psychology department.

“The performance part of the play ends with Act 2. Then the audience comes back, actors come out of their costume, and there will be a facilitated discussion. It’ll be a conversation about what can we do to prevent it. It’s really easy to blame the school, the parents, administration, video games and movies. People get fixated on these things and a discussion is a good way to get to the bottom of it and make people think there are things they can do,” Reidenbach said.

The drama department decided to do the play because Rob Bowen, the director of the play, sees theater not just as entertainment and not just as a night out, Reidenbach said. He is trying to create a conversation with this play.

“Rob Bowen is doing an excellent job. Not me or the cast could hope for a better director. He’s been there at every turn dramatically and emotionally helping cast and crew, leading the project in the right direction,” Reidenbach said.

All the characters except Eric and Dylan have titles instead of names because Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli, the authors of the play, wanted to show the notion of boxing people in with titles is not a positive thing, Reidenbach said.

“They are essentially put in boxes and each character represents a type of person. When Stephen Karam was researching for ‘columbinus,’ he conducted interviews and surveys with teenagers from across the country in order to formulate these stereotypes as a way to let the audience in on how high schoolers see each other, and how other people see high schoolers,” Reidenbach said.

According to Reidenbach, Eric and Dylan are not purely titles because the authors didn’t want people to associate those titles with large groups of people because they made Columbine happen.

“They weren’t Freak and Loner. They were Eric and Dylan,” Reidenbach said.

Preston finds the play incredibly moving. In one of the scenes with Freak and Loner, the audience gets to hear their thoughts and experience what they were experiencing.

“I still tear up a little bit every time we go through those scenes because it’s so raw and powerful when you can get into the heads of these people,” Preston said.

Preston said the aftermath of the shooting lasts 10 to 20 years after the event. Characters are still confused and curious about it, and they still do not have all the information about it.

“You can’t forgive the two for their actions, it was just a horrible thing that they did, but at the same time, the fact that this church was going out and seeing them all as victims, and that these kids were mentally tortured enough that they would be considered victims of their own actions as well is a moving statement in itself,” Preston said.

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