“I don’t do high school theater I do theater with high school students,” says Ballard High School drama teacher Shawn Riley. Riley’s philosophy on treating students like young adults played a role in his decision to put on Band Bang You’re Dead and Eric LaRue, two one-act plays focusing on gun violence in high schools, for Ballard High’s spring production (5/ 9‒5/11 and 5/16‒5/18, 7:30 p.m. $15. Ballard High School. 1418 65th St. 206.252.1000).
Riley says he also felt drawn to these plays—which are among the top 10 most produced U.S. high school one act plays each year according to Dramatics Magazine—because this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado and the 21st anniversary of the Thurston High School shooting in Springfield, Oregon. The plays will be performed back-to-back with a brief intermission in between.
Sixteen-year-old student director Lillie (who requested the use of her first name only) says the students have put a lot of thought into the performance and how to create an awareness around gun violence in the community. Lillie says that it is important to treat these plays as a piece of history and recognize how shootings have changed since the late ‘90s.
“When Bang Bang You’re Dead was written [in 1999], shootings were not the same as the one’s I have grown up with,” Lillie says. “It was more about understanding the person and addressing bullying as a catalyst; but now we know that we have to view [shooters] as outliers and tackle the bigger issues like gun control.” The topic is especially timely given there have been eight school shootings in the U.S. since the beginning of 2019.
The theater department teamed up with students from the school’s chapter of We Won’t Be Next, a Seattle-based student advocacy group against gun violence, to make sure the performances are an educational experience and don’t perpetuate gun violence. The performances will begin with a director’s note and after both acts there will be a discussion session, giving audience members an opportunity to discuss the content with the cast. Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Ribbon of Promise, a Springfield, Oregon organization promoting nonviolence in schools.
Riley says he is optimistic about the future after seeing his students’ eagerness to engage in politics and stand up to gun violence in the March For Our Lives rally in March 2018. Demonstrating for a cause that didn’t directly impact them wasn’t something that would have occurred to students when he was in high school, he says. “This is major.”