Bang, Bang, You’re Dead!
Back in the spring of 1999 the Hippodrome decided to do a reading of a new play by William Mastrosimone with high school students. That play was Bang, Bang, You’re Dead! I had the pleasure of being one of the area students asked to take part in the reading.
William Mastrosimone wrote the play in response to the recent outbreak in school violence. There had already been shootings at Springfield and Paducah. The play is cleverly put together in order to never show a gun on stage or glorifies violence in any way. It all takes place after the school shooting in the jail cell of Josh, where he is visited by his victims.
I remember back on that first day of rehearsal at the Hippodrome. Sara Morsey, the director, asked us all if we felt safe in school. Everyone in the room answered of course. There hadn’t been a shooting in a while and we felt there was nothing to fear. The very next day was Columbine. It sent shock waves through the cast. Suddenly the play was very real to all of us, and not only that but we were what everyone was talking about in town. We were only supposed to do one reading that Friday night followed by a talk back. It sold out and we extended to another night.
The drama teacher at my high school came to see the show and saw how powerful it was. She came to me about bringing it to our school. So a couple weeks later we stage another production at my high school with my classmates. Again the response was amazing.
A year later I went off to college and the show never left me. I talked with a lot of my fellow theatre majors and it was amazing to hear how many had done a production of Bang, Bang, You’re Dead! It was the high school show to do. There was common thread that linked us all together – we were the Columbine Generation.
After I graduated from college I was asked back to my high school to teach drama for one semester. The stipulation I had to direct a production of Bang, Bang, You’re Dead! Both of the productions I had been in were reading. I decided to do a full out performance this time. It was such a great piece to direct with a group of high school students. The students did extensive research on school violence and bullying. It opened their eyes to things going on around them that they had never noticed before. There was some parental concern this time about the subject matter but when they saw how unbelievable Bang, Bang, You’re Dead! is they rallied behind us. There was such support for the show that the school held us over and held a mandatory assembly for the entire student body to come see it.
After leaving that school I knew that if I ever worked with high school students again that I had to direct Bang, Bang, You’re Dead! The violence in the school systems has continued and spread into the colleges with the Virginia Tech massacre. It wasn’t long after leaving teaching that I started working in the education department here at the Hippodrome. It was a full circle, coming back to where I had done Bang, Bang so many years ago. Teaching in the HITT program we don’t normally do full plays, it’s typically scenes developed by the students, but Bang, Bang kept coming back to me as something that we should do.
In fall of 2007 I started teaching HITT at Hawthorne High School. This was the perfect school to launch a new production of Bang, Bang, You’re Dead! I talked with everyone at the Hippodrome, got their approval and then went to the administration at Hawthorne. After talking with them, giving them a copy of the script and the movie to watch they agreed it would be a fantastic thing to do. So in mid February 2008 we cast Hawthorne’s production of Bang, Bang, You’re Dead! The students had never done a play. They had no idea what to expect. We faced many challenges because each member had to be willing to dedicate themselves full to the show. They had to memorize their lines and come to rehearsal. Some did research and put together a flier of information regarding school shootings, bullying and teen depression. Other students built set pieces.
Finally after about two months of rehearsal, several cast changes and many hours of rehearsal it was time to perform at the Hippodrome. The students drove in from Hawthorne, we practiced a couple of times because we had yet another cast change, and then they got in place for the top of the show. Members of the Hippodrome staff, the general public and the families of the students came to watch. These amazing students, who had never been on stage before, had never done anything like this before, got up and did an amazing, powerful performance. They giggled a little but that was to be expected, and anyway they had three more productions the next day to nail it. And that is exactly what they did. The very next day they did three more productions at Hawthorne. The staff, administration and students were blow away. There had never been anything like this done at Hawthorne Middle/High School before. You could hear a pin drop during the show and as the audiences left the show there was a buzz of conversation about what they had just seen.
Terrell gave a such a truthful, moving performance as Josh. Josh goes through so many emotions throughout the show that it can be a challenge for a young actor to let himself go there. Terrell gave into it all and grabbed the heart strings of everyone in the audience. Ronni, Kim, Tara, Colson, and Jesse gave powerful performances as Josh’s victims. They understood that they couldn’t just come out and yell their lines at Josh. Yes, they were angry but more they wanted to understand why Josh did what he did. And it was their responsibilities to guide the audience in understand what had happened. They did an amazing job at doing this.
It has been such a pleasure to work on William Mastrosimone’s Bang, Bang, You’re Dead! four times now, and twice here at the Hippodrome. I have to say though I’ve never been as proud as I was to watch the students from Hawthorne in their production. They came so far and over came so many obstacles in order to perform. This play is such a powerful piece of literature. I’ve obviously sat through it many times now but I still tear up when I hear a young perform say “I’ll never have an epitaph that reads ‘Beloved mother, grandmother, and wife. Died at 17.’”