"Bang, bang: educators challenged by play's impact"
June 9, 2008 · Updated 2:49 PM
"Survivors of the Springfield, Ore., school shooting helped craft a drama that is gripping teenagers across the country.This was the first play I had written that was not from my own experience. I needed somebody to teach me the emotional terrain, said playwright William Mastrosimone, who wrote his first draft of Bang, Bang Youre Dead just five days after the Springfield tragedy.It appears to be meeting teen violence head-on.A girl came up to me after a performance and said, Thanks for saving my life, Mastrosimone said in a telephone interview from his Enumclaw home Friday. In the six months of the dramas public life, six other teenagers from 13 to 16 years old have told him the play stopped them from some form of planned violence. When they saw the play, they identified with the characters and saw what life would be like (after a violent school shooting), he said.The play probes the emotions of a teenager in jail after killing his parents and five classmates in a school cafeteria and explodes the myth of glory and immortality surrounding the perpetrator.Bainbridge High School students will perform the play on the first three weekends of November, opening Friday, Nov. 5.The decision to present Bang, Bang, Youre Dead was not made without some serious thought and planning, said BHS principal Dave Ellick.Weve been proactive, he said. The school district attempted to prepare the community for what is anticipated to be a powerful impact by distributing information about the play and its reception in other school to many organizations and residents in the community. The actors who hang out at my house, said Ellick, whose son Sean is a member of the cast, say this is the most powerful thing theyve ever been involved in.Each performance will end, as the playwright requests, with an open dialogue between players and audience. School administrators, island counselors and other residents actively involved with youth will be at performances to help monitor reactions.It is being performed in schools all over the country and they all show positive results, Ellick said. Everyone says it has (had an impact).The violence in this play, mostly in the form of reenacting the school shooting, is not gratuitous violence, Ellick said.It is more about how is this going to affect me in my relationships with others. We are talking about how are we going to deal with one another....particularly in light of recent tragedies in suburban communities.What gets through to teens is forthright reality expressed in teenagers terms and images, students tell the playwright.Bang, Bang, Youre Dead is a drama to be performed by kids, for kids. I would never allow the play to be on video or film because its important that kids see their peers on stage kids they ride the bus with, kids they eat lunch with, kids they play sports and take class with. We didnt know what was going to happen with this, Mastrosimone said of rehearsing at Thurston High School in Springfield. As they rehearsed, kids told Mastrosimone what fit and what didnt.Kids would say, I was there when the bullets were flying and I wouldnt have thought that.Students improvised their own feelings and expressions, which became part of the final play. Even now, Mastrosimone encourages student actors to improvise and make the play personal for their own audiences. The plays April 3 debut in Springfield two weeks before the Columbine High School shooting was controversial and emotional but people came out saying this is the real thing. Thats all I needed to hear, Mastrosimone said.He put the play on the Internet, at www.bangbangyouredead.com, for the public to use. This is not part of my career no royalties. Ive given it back to the world."