K-State’s Theatre Department opened its 2013-2014 season last night by unveiling “columbinus,” a docudrama that was written around the events of the Columbine High School shooting that occurred in Littleton, Colo. in 1999.
The play was held in Mark A. Chapman Theatre, formerly known as Nichols Theatre. In all, nine actors were cast for the play – a group of experienced performers. Four of the nine cast members, Joey Boos, senior in theatre performance, Bella Alonso, senior in theatre performance, David Burdett, junior in theatre, and Eric Lutz, senior in kinesiology, had roles in last year’s “The Music Man.”
Due to the powerful and intriguing subject matter of the production, attendees of the show had certain expectations for the actual performance.
“I feel like it’s going to send a powerful message,” Elizabeth James, freshman in elementary education, said. “Through an introduction to theatre class that I’m taking, I actually got to read the script before seeing the play. I’m looking forward to seeing it on stage.”
Some students had the opportunity to sit in on an acting class that contained three of the members of “columbinus.” This opportunity allowed them to pick the actors’ brains about the production.
“At the beginning of the year, when I first found out about the play, I was excited to come see it,” said Kelsey McKinnell, sophomore in elementary education, was one of the visiting students. “However, I was [so] excited about coming to see the play after I talked with the cast and learned more about the set and the plot.”
The 1999 Columbine shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were portrayed in the play by Clay Massingill, a freshman in theatre, and Burdett, respectively. Additionally, much of the information surrounding the events of the shooting was incorporated into the play’s script. Multiple scenes were built around excerpts from accounts by survivors and families affected by the shooting; the script was structured with journal entries and interviews taken from victims and survivors; and re-produced evidence from the tragedy, including photographs and audio clips, was displayed during the performance.
However, “columbinus” was about more than simply retelling the events of April 20, 1999. It was a call to the harm that can be done by stereotypes. It was an in-depth look at the turmoil that the struggle of identity and insecurity can bring to adolescence. It was a powerful reminder to speak thoroughly and clearly with peers, in order to seek out some of those deeper truths that don’t always lie so close to the surface.
“We all, at times, feel both
self-love and self-hate,” said Jennifer Vellenga, an assistant professor of theatre and play director. “If we understand these human truths a little better,
maybe we can control how we treat one another.”
Act I approached stereotypes head on. Instead of jumping directly into the story revolving around the events of the Columbine shooting, “columbinus” took a look at nine individuals, all of whom, despite their high school social positions, harbored worries and insecurities that they struggled to communicate with the outside world.
There was a jock who struggled with his identity, there was a popular party guy who secretly struggled with his sexuality and there was a nerd who wished that society wouldn’t shape the basis of his relationships as he grew older. Amidst these characters were Massingill and Burdett, accurately depicted social outcasts who would go on to be revealed as Harris and Klebold. Several powerful scenes in Act I showed the cruelty that can accompany high school with homophobia, racial issues and vicious typecasting throughout.
Act II provided a much more in depth look at Harris and Klebold themselves. As a result of the scenes from Act I, the audience had a very clear look at the situations that shaped the mindsets of the shooters around the time of the tragedy. Both are also affected by mental conditions, including depression.
“Eric was also intellectual, with stellar grades and a future ahead of him,” Massingill said. “However, his disturbed mental state took away any chance at normality.”
The timeline of Act II followed the path of the year before the shooting, up to two days before its occurrence. At this point in the performance, the actors described in-depth depictions from students of Columbine High School, providing their accounts of the day’s events.
“The true testimonies from
Littleton, the real people who died and our memorial to them are the most
powerful aspects for me,” Vellenga said.
As the play came to an end, the performers provided some general information regarding the years that have followed the shooting, and in the ending scene, wrote the names of the victims on a chalkboard at the back of the stage, hanging up corresponding portraits.
“Columbinus is gritty, real,
heartfelt, bittersweet and beautiful,” said Massingill. “This story happened, this
story is true and it shouldn’t be forgotten.”