By Sue Suchyta
From the Front Row
The gut-wrenching events of the Columbine High School massacre, during which 15 died, is revisited in a semi-staged reading of “Columbinus” by the Outvisible Theatre company on the Open Book Theatre stage.
The play combines fact with fiction, using journal entries of the perpetrators, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and interviews with survivors. The play looks at the dark side of adolescent culture, and what led up to the shootings.
Two casts, teen and adult, perform, with the teen cast at 2 p.m. June 23, and the adult cast 7 p.m. June 22 and 23 at the theater, 1621 West Road, Trenton. The adults cast has mentored their teen counterparts.
Directed by Adriane Galea of Dearborn, the adult cast includes: Michael Suchyta of Dearborn as Freak/Eric Harris, Scott Anthony Joy of Ann Arbor as Loner/Dylan Klebold, Kate Martinez of Dearborn as Rebel, Meghan Van Arsdalen of Ann Arbor as Faith, Taylor Morrow-Johnson of Warren as Perfect, Tim Pollack of Wyandotte as Jock, Ethan Kankula of Detroit as AP, and Tim Smith of Dearborn as Prep.
The student cast includes: Jack Welcher of Berkley as Freak/Eric Harris, Jonah Sobczak of Taylor as Loner/Dylan Klebold, Cait LeBlanc of Allen Park as Rebel, Anna Bruce of Trenton as Faith, Brooke Scherer of Rockwood as Perfect, Miles Young of Royal Oak as Jock, Eric Kudla of Allen Park as AP, and Elijah Bruening of Berkley as Prep.
Galea, the artistic director of Outvisible, said she is drawn to plays that have an element of risk in its content.
“Almost everything that I product is heavy,” Galea said. “When I chose to do this, it was pre-Parkland, which I think was kind of a turning point in terms of what the youth voice was for school shootings.
“I read the script and loved it, and knew I wanted to do it at some point, but since then, there is not better time than now to do this.”
Galea said “Columbinus” is a story that needs to be told, and having a student cast lends additional impact. She said her adult cast was young but alive when Columbine occurred, while her teen cast has experienced the recent upsurge in school shootings while students themselves, and may have participated in walkouts at their school.
Welcher, in the teen cast, said it is a challenge to play a character as dark and maniacal as Eric Harris.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I have already started to develop it and try to think like he would and become the character. I personally think he was just so pushed to the edge, and started thinking these thoughts, and it just grew and grew until he acted upon it.”
Suchyta, his adult counterpart, said the show will evoke strong emotions from the audience.
“You will experience the raw side of theater during this production,” he said.
Sobczak, who plays Eric’s partner, Dylan, in the teen cast, said his character had second thoughts about the plan, and expressed concerns about the afterlife. He also had connections to people in the school, and loved his parents.
“He was feeling some guilt beforehand, for what he is going to put these people through,” he said.
Young said it is sad how desensitized he and other teens have become to school shootings.
“You see it on the news, and you’re like, ‘there’s another one,’” he said. “That’s really the extent of your emotions, and that is the saddest part to me. I am definitely frustrated by it.”
Bruening said when Columbine happened, it was like 9/11: The media focused on it to the exclusion of all else, but now school shootings have become so commonplace, they are just another news story.
“It was this huge thing, but nowadays, a shooting happens, and it is like this 15 minutes of fame for these shooters, and then it is ‘back to our regularly scheduled program,’” Bruening said.
Morrow-Johnson said that when we don’t learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.
“I think the best way for us to combat things like this happening again is for us to educate ourselves, and to learn the really ugly parts of it so the ugly parts don’t happen again,” she said. “This is going to hit home for a lot of people, especially younger audiences, because this is a reality for a lot of young people. I think people will connect with it a little bit more, and it will humanize it because it is not a headline.”
Pollack said the up side of the show is that it is based on real events.
“This happened, it took place and a lot of this is taken from interviews, recordings and videos,” he said. “It is almost a verbatim theater piece.
“It’s nice remembering that these are people, and not statistics, which happens with a lot of the school shootings nowadays. They become numbers, and we forget that these are people that had experiences and went through this.”
Joy said it is only through confronting issues that we understand them.
“Part of the experience is that you bring that baggage, and that we help you unpack it together,” he said. “It is not a piece that is meant to be sensationalized. It is done with a good eye to honest representation and not shock value. It is ultimately a more rewarding experience if you tackle something that is tough or confusing.”
Joy said playing one of the killers is challenging.
“It’s tough to be representing someone who has such ugliness and has such horrific death associated with him, and though they did something horrible and unspeakable, everyone knows what it feels like to be angry or hateful,” he said. “You try to grab on to that, and not judge as you play them, but judge after you play them.”
Joy said it is good to to see theater that is relevant.
“It opens your ears in a way that you don’t get for other things,” he said. “I would encourage people to come out and go there with us, and see if it gives you anything.”
The show contains strong adult content, situations and language, and is not recommended for young children. Parental discretion is highly advised. Questions may be directed to Adriane Galea at [email protected].
There no is admission charge, and no reserved seating. Donations will be accepted for The Trevor Project, thetrevorproject.org, a non-profit national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth.