I've always felt that while theatre can certainly entertain, it can enlighten as well. Many of my own opinions and beliefs have been shaped or changed by what I've seen on stage and the conversations that followed.
Every so often, a piece of theatre comes along that has the opportunity to have an everlasting impact on those who view it. Whether it's calling attention to a particular issue or presenting cautionary tales, these pieces not only educate but also sway long-held philosophies.
More often than anywhere else, these productions are being performed by high schools all over the world. I believe that a high school theatre is a place where students need to not only learn the craft itself but the impact that it can have. Thankfully, many teachers agree with that.
Productions that call attention to mental illness like Next to Normal are widely popular right now. The same goes for Ragtime which includes themes of racism and xenophobia. And The Laramie Project, which has become a force for change when it comes to the LGBTQ issues, is an annual fixture in high school theatre.
Another play that I feel can have the same impact is 26 Pebbles by Eric Ulloa. The play deals with the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting where 26 children and adults were gunned down. These 26 deaths, described by one local resident as "pebbles thrown into a pond", created ripples that captured the attention of the entire nation.
Written similarly in the style of The Laramie Project, Mr. Ulloa interviewed 60 members of the Newtown, CT community. This one-act, monologue-heavy show covers a lot of topics from gun violence to mental illness to school safety. But the play avoids getting too "preachy" as some would say. It doesn't take a hard stance on pro or anti-gun control issues. Rather it focuses on a community trying to cope with a tragedy and ends with hopeful messages.
In addition to allowing the audience to take in different perspectives, it also gives the cast and crew an opportunity to explore these themes beyond the text as well.
Director Mary Leonard spoke about her experiences directing this at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to Breaking Character Magazine,
"We were able to bring in a grief specialist to preemptively discuss with the actors the emotional triggers they might encounter, as well as tools to help them cope with those emotions," she said. "My advice in producing this play is to allow time in rehearsal to talk, and to take some time to decompress afterward. We also had Q&A panels following selected performances that included mental health professionals, law enforcement, educators, and local political leaders, among others. These panels provided some understanding and context to this complex, emotional subject matter, and gave audience members the opportunity to respond with questions and observations."
While there are many sides to be taken on a variety of debates, no one would disagree that these school shootings need to stop. In times like these, silence is dangerous. A discussion needs to happen for issues to be understood and potentially resolved. With high schools performing 26 Pebbles, it gives communities an opportunity to talk about their feelings and thoughts on a wide spectrum of issues.
Thankfully, there are some schools already planning on performing this in the St. Louis and Sant Fe areas. I am hopeful of the impact a show like this can have in their communities.
For more information about the play and licensing requests, visit Samuel French's website here.