4:52 p.m. PST January 18, 2016
Playing a murderer on stage isn’t about the action; it’s about the feeling.
That’s what Jacob Eschette, 18, said about playing Josh, a fictional high school student who murders his parents and five classmates, in Central High School’s production of “Bang Bang You’re Dead.”
“You don’t think about (playing a murderer) in terms of action,” Eschette said. “You think about it in terms of feeling. There’s a point someone has to get to, to do something like that.”
The one-act play was written by William Mastrosimone in 1999 to raise awareness of school violence and its causes. In his prefatory notes, Mastrosimone described the piece as “a drama to be performed by kids, for kids” and said he hoped it would help people to “see tragedy before it happens.”
The play is strongly based on events surrounding the 1998 shootings by Kip Kinkel in Springfield, Oregon. Kinkel shot and killed his parents on May 20, 1998. The following day, he shot 27 of his classmates at Thurston High School, killing two and wounding 25.
Jeff Witt, teacher of the production class, is one of the show’s directors. Sixteen students will perform on stage, with another three serving on crew. Before the play, the students will perform songs and scenes they will perform at the Regional Acting Festival.
Witt said he always wanted to do this show and felt like it was now the time and place to do it.
Though he has faced opposition, particularly from people who think the show will promote violence in schools, the school and district’s administration have stood behind Witt’s decision to do it, Witt said.
Witt said he encourages people to read the script or see the show.
“The play itself leaves a lot of things in the air,” he said. “But it brings awareness and makes us question if we are doing what we need to do to prevent school violence.”
Because of the subject matter, there will be mental health counselors available after the performances to facilitate a discussion, answer questions and offer advice, Witt said.
The play begins with Josh having already committed the murders, and it serves to mostly recount his memories and thoughts in flashback scenes, Eschette said.
“He feels no one loves him, he’s alone, and nothing he does matters … even killing those people,” Eschette said.
Witt and Eschette agreed that it is an important show with an important message. Eschette said his character gets to such a point of isolation, he doesn’t think about his consequences until it’s too late.
“These things don’t just happen in big cities,” Witt said. “They can happen anywhere.”
Witt said he hopes the audience picks up on signs of violent behavior, such as bullying, that are shown throughout the performance. He said these are signs people can see in real life but often miss.
Eschette said it’s important for people to see the play, even if it will make them uncomfortable.
“It is important to talk about things that make us uncomfortable,” he said.
“There was an actual threat at our school,” he added. “I am not comfortable with this either; I don’t want to be shot. But you don’t know what others might do, what they are feeling or going through.
“For Josh, it’s everyday things — peer pressure, pressure from parents. I believe that no one is the same, we all deal with things differently.”
Eschette said his character didn’t know how to deal with any of these things, which pushed him to make the decision he did.
He said discussing these topics can help prevent violent incidents and help people see the issues are not “black and white.”
“Who knows what we should do?” he said. “Anyone of us has the potential to do this. It’s not just something with an easy fix, so it’s important to understand why they happen.”
Above all, Eschette said, it is important that people understand violent incidents are, for now, part of reality and need to be addressed.
“This is a still happening,” he said. “This is a real thing.”
‘BANG BANG YOU’RE DEAD’
Where: Central High School auditorium, 1530 Monmouth St., in Independence
When: 7 p.m., Jan. 20-23. Doors will open for seating about 30-45 minutes before the show.
Admission: Donations will be accepted ($2 suggested) to help fund the CHS Thespians’ trip to the Regional Acting Festival.
For more information, call Central High School at (503) 838-0480.