Bishop Ireton High School
How should a student react when the sound of the school bell is replaced with the sound of gunshots? How are children expected to protect themselves if a school shooting occurs? And how do survivors manage to move on? Centreville High School's production I Was There explored how students grapple with the trauma and loss associated with a school shooting. This impactful story illustrated the pain, strength, terror, and heartbreak that followed a shooting and showed how this event changed a school community forever.
I Was There, written by Sam Guzman, was a series of monologues that followed a group of students as they recounted their individual experiences during a horrific shooting. Centreville High School was one of the first schools this year that was able to mount a safe, in-person production and the school expertly maintained the integrity of the piece itself. The ensemble was masked and spread out onstage, and if anything, this made the show even more moving. The distance between actors allowed the audience to focus on each student's story individually, especially when the focus of the play shifted to explain the shooter's point of view.
The actors did a fantastic job as they authentically reacted to the shooting and highlighted the unique perspectives they had on the horrific event. Ethan Welch played DJ, a jock, whose anger towards the shooter and lack of tolerance for the atrocities that occurred were evident. Abbie Bailey's portrayal of the popular girl, Kristen, perfectly captured the feelings of shame and guilt that often followed a shooting. Makayla Parker brought a childlike innocence to the stage as Lauren, and the audience could see the actress balancing Lauren's typical optimism with the heaviness of her circumstances.
Katie Wood, who played the shooter, gave a notable performance as well. Wood's impressive take on this challenging role astounded audience members, and she added significant depth to a seemingly one-dimensional antagonist. Her monologue shifted from apologetic to desperate to psychotic to furious, and Wood perfectly showed both the pain and derangement that prompted the shooter to kill nine students.
The acting performances were not the only things that made this show stand out. A single student, Tyler Schroder, was responsible for the lighting, sound, and editing, and these technical elements artfully contributed to the overall success of the performance. When students died onstage, bold lighting and sound effects created a chaotic atmosphere that felt deeply real. In addition, the costumes clearly reflected each character's personality and social standing, and the minimal set pieces allowed the actors to create several different settings while onstage.
I Was There was a relevant show that addressed the horrific realities of school shootings. Centreville High School's performance analyzed trauma in a provoking and artistic way, and their students should be immensely proud of the work they did to draw attention to this pertinent issue.
McLean High School
It is every parent's, teacher's, and student's worst nightmare to hear the sound of screams and gunshots coming from the inside of a school. This fear became a reality in Centreville High School's haunting rendition of I Was There as it effectively and gracefully depicted the seriousness of school shootings and the chilling reality for hundreds of people across America.
Written by Sam Guzman, I Was There followed students recounting their perspectives on the details of a school shooting that ended the lives of nine people. This show emphasized the haunting trauma that students must learn to cope with and examined the reasoning, guilt and anger behind the decision to take another's life. Based on a real event, Centreville performed with great strength and skill, using its talent to highlight the shocking reality and powerlessness that is still relevant to people today.
One of the most intriguing parts of the play was not just how the ensemble worked together to form an environment of suspenseful fear to outright panic, but each individual's reactions to their trauma. A notable contrast included the two popular kids, Kristen and DJ, played by Abbie Bailey and Ethan Welch. Welch's escalation from an initially grounded persona to bursting fury characterized his anger and disgust towards the shooter, contrasted with Bailey's portrayal of grief and guilt on the error of her ways, along with the horrifying thought that if she had been a nicer person these people might still be alive.
Impersonating someone as complicated and difficult as a school shooter is a challenging task, but Katie Wood pulled off a masterful interpretation of Aaron, using a skill and grace that was vital for such a character. The exaggerated physicality showed her pain and torment without the need for words, almost making the audience feel sympathy for the villain at her breaking point as this show examined what led up to these actions in the unnerving final moments.
The pandemic restrictions did not stop the cast of Centreville as the distance between the actors was used to illustrate the fear and desolation of the students. The ensemble used powerful silences to accentuate scenes of loud pops and chaos creating a sense of dread. The simple, yet dramatic and impactful execution of the blocking was fundamental for the intensity needed in the show, particularly during the separation from the shooter and the rest of the cast, representing their isolation during the chilling final moments of the performance.
Tech head Tyler Schroder integrated the sound, editing and lights seamlessly with the performance of the actors, not just working with the flow of the show but emphasizing it through a variety of spotlights and blackouts for each monologue's differing perspective. The basic set of chairs six feet apart with a high side light provided an air of interrogation, terror, uncertainty, and guilt.
Centreville High School was able to maturely characterize the impactful nature of I Was There by delivering a distressing reminder that one day any student might walk into what they thought was a drill and not know if they will ever make it out again.