On April 20, 1999, the Columbine High School massacre took place. Most of us know the story by heart, so I will not recount it here. The shooting sparked debate over gun control laws, high school cliques and bullying—resulting in an increased emphasis on school security and zero-tolerance policies, and moral panic over goth culture, social outcasts (despite the fact the perpetrators were no such thing), teenage drug use, teenage internet use and violence in video games.
In addition, it inspired countless movies, documentaries and plays—one of which will be premiering in Akron on the 19th anniversary of the tragedy.
“columbinus,” by the United States Theatre Project and written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli, is based on records, transcripts, police reports and interviews from the community in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
It doesn’t take a stance on gun control, but it also doesn’t place the blame on other students by suggesting if they had only “walked up” to their fellow classmates, things might have turned out differently.
To set the stage for the murders, the audience is given a glimpse into a typical day in the life of a high school student. Stereotypes are taken to their extremes (Rebel cuts herself and smokes cigarettes, Prep is a latent homosexual), but they have one thing in common: they’re all having a pretty bad time. The characters of Freak and Loner who become Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in the second act aren’t treated any worse than any of their classmates, and better than some. In fact, there are several moments of genuine peer interaction and it is mentioned Loner even attends the prom with a date days before the attack.
But I don’t want to talk about them. We’ve analyzed their motives enough—we will never understand it more than we already do. Perhaps the most telling scene is one in which Freak is visited by other famous murderers, who advise him that he must believe he is above the law and its consequences. I’d be willing to bet a superiority complex is a better indicator of violent tendencies than bullying any day.
I’m more interested in those left behind to pick up the pieces, the other students. High school is hard. And although we love to diminish it to pregnancy scares and shit-talking (as if those are problems that don’t exist in the “real world”), or even worse, vodka-soaked tampons and Tide Pods, teenagers aren’t isolated from larger issues. They see their parents struggling to make ends meet, the lack of opportunities available to them, the destruction of our planet for the sake of profit, the seemingly insurmountable racist and sexist standards upheld by our government, the hopelessness of it all, and they have opinions about it.
And when they go to school one morning and end up with a gun in their face, they just might have something to say about it. Maybe that scares us because they’re not too entrenched in the system to question its structure, because it calls into question our own choices. But if we weren’t interested in raising individuals with their own informed thoughts and feelings, why did we bother having kids at all? If we don’t think our schools are preparing our children to become fully engaged citizens, what is their purpose? When we decide to procreate, are we questioning the kind of world we’re bringing them into, and doing everything in our power to build the best version of that world?
Please, come ponder these questions and others with us at The Well CDC, 647 E. Market St., April 19 through 21 at 8 p.m. and April 22 at 3 p.m. “columbinus” is produced by Galamac Productions and directed by Jeremy A. Clarke and Omar Mack, and a portion of the box office sales will be donated to the National Compassion Fund, a program of the National Center for Victims of Crime that helps victims of mass crime. Tickets are $12 and may be purchased via Facebook or on EventBrite.