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Theatre’s free production looks at school violence

Hayswood Theatre and Community Unity announces the free showing of ‘Bang Bang You’re Dead.’
In this play, 15 drama students have to put themselves into the role of being the shooter or the victim of a school-violence crime. Hayswood Theatre will stage three free public shows: Friday and Saturday, Sept. 5 and 6, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 7, at 2 p.m.
Written by award-winning playwright William Mastrosimone, this 45-minute play was inspired by those who survived and the families of the Columbine High School shootings. Mastrosimone said he had to write something.
‘The national tragedy of kids killing kids sweeps this country and no one, not even the schools, the parents, the pundits nor the government has a clue how this affects all of us,’ he said.
The Harrison County student actors are dedicated to this workshop sponsored by Hayswood Theater and Community Unity.
‘Though it is a small town and a good place to live,’ said Kathie Ponder, the play’s local director, ‘we do need to be aware and prepared to talk about this subject.’
In her job, Ponder works with many teens and knows first-hand the issues they must deal with each day including drugs, school safety, cyber-bullying, MySpace, even safe homes.
‘This county is already ahead of the game,’ Ponder noted. ‘Safe Place, the Y, Gerdon Youth Center and those type of programs really help young people have options.’
The play has no answers but does reach the hearts of those performing, as well as the audience. It is set in a jail cell. ‘Josh’ is there the night after he has killed five fellow students and his parents. These victims come back to haunt him, asking questions like, ‘Why me, Josh?’
Daniel Friedrich who plays Josh, ‘the shooter,’ said, ‘This play is real-life drama! The kids are portrayed just like real life, and these are issues we deal with each day. I am glad to be playing Josh, as I get to see inside the mind of a really confused young man who wants to succeed but feels no one cares or listens.’
Friedrich graduated last year from North Harrison High School and is employed at Blue River Services Inc.
Rachel Sieg, who plays Katie, is a Floyd Central High School student.
‘I am so excited to be working on this production of ‘Bang Bang You’re Dead’, ‘ she said. ‘I can connect to this play on a personal level, and I hope everyone who sees this will go away with a greater understanding than they had before. I have lost a friend to this type of violence, and I am still dealing with it and always will be dealing with it.’
Joseph Kempf of Louisville is acting at Hayswood for the first time. He plays the role of Matt.
‘Matt is kind of a ‘trog,’ a kid that stands out as non-conforming,’ Kempf explained. ‘I think school violence goes unnoticed until something awful happens. We really have to look at the root of what makes violence in schools. I am enjoying my role as Matt because we are getting the message out. This play is a real eye-opener.
‘Kids like Matt get made fun of for not conforming,’ he said. ‘They don’t have a group to eat with at lunch. They aren’t bad kids. They just get judged for their appearance or an attitude. Matt isn’t the kind of kid that would shoot but he is the kind of kid that gets hurt by teasing and bullying. There are also kids that just get ignored, which is just as bad.’
Playing the role of Jessie is Kelly Smith, who has acted at Hayswood in ‘Once Upon a Mattress,’ ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Cinderella.’
‘Jessie isn’t afraid to get into Josh’s face,’ said Smith, a student at Corydon Central High School. ‘She wants answers and she wants justice. Jessie is kind of prep and is all about being top of her class, a perfectionist and an activist for the underdog.’
Ryan Burton plays the father, grandfather and various other parts. He has had some experience with foreign film.
Fourteen-year-old Floyd Central student Zach Herbert, who plays the ‘jock Michael,’ said, ‘This play is amazing because it shows what happens in our world today. It will raise awareness and present a deeper thought on all the problems at hand.’
Dallas Kane-Meunier, who fills several of the small roles and is acting as a student director, said, ‘I have enjoyed working with the sets and staging of this production. I have met some new kids, and we have been able to talk about lots of things very openly. It’s not like competition for band or for a sport. We are all on the same team and it doesn’t matter what school we are from.’
Ponder is pleased that this play brought together more than 15 teenagers from four different schools and four counties.
‘We have actors from small schools to inter-Louisville schools,’ she said. ‘These kids have been able to share and relate to each other. They have been able to see that being a teenager is being a teenager no matter your school or background, and now they hopefully know that there are adults who care and adults they can talk to.’
Other actors and helpers include: Hanna, Lydia and Sadie Moore of the Brandenburg area, Mariah Simpson, Michael Cash, Arie, Rachel Smith and Brianna Norris.
‘I have never experienced anything like these kids have today,’ said Lance Ponder, assistant director and vice president of the Hayswood Theatre board. ‘I am amazed by these young people.’
Kathie Ponder said, ‘There is nothing in this play that glorifies or glamorizes the violence or the shooters. It is focused largely on consequences.
‘Some people think we are exploiting the shootings,’ but, she explained, ‘we have to use this method to get the message out. There have already been over 10 shootings in 2008. This is nothing new. These types of shootings have been recorded as far back as April 9, 1891, when James Foster, age 70, shot a group of male students playing on a playground at St. Mary’s Parochial School, injuring five young males. We all know about Michael Carnel, the 14-year-old boy from Paducah, Ky., Columbine, Virginia Tech and even the shooting this year at a Louisville factory.’
Hayswood Theatre and Community Unity want to get the word out in spite of the controversy surrounding this type of production.
‘If even one person is helped, it will be worth it,’ said Lance Ponder.
Assisting in various ways with the production in addition to Community Unity are Genarose Turner, Counsel House, Jack Sweeny, YMCA of Harrison County and the Gerdon Youth Center.