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HMTC performs “Bang Bang You’re Dead,” opens conversation

In wake of recent shooting in Las Vegas and murder at Bronx high school, the HMTC performed a staged reading of a play about a school shooting with a follow-up roundtable discussion.

Students along with faculty participate in reading of “Bang Bang You’re Dead.”

Students along with faculty participate in reading of “Bang Bang You’re Dead.”

Students along with faculty participate in reading of “Bang Bang You’re Dead.”

Lynne Siprelle, Staff Writer

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Surrounded by ghosts of the dead as the stage descended into darkness, the shooter cried, “I didn’t know it would be forever— is this the rest of my life? Oh God!”

So ended the staged reading of Bang Bang You’re Dead, organized by the Horace Mann Theater Company (HMTC) this past Thursday.

The poignantly realistic play was told through the voices of a high school shooter’s relatives and friends, who come back to haunt him in jail in order to understand why he killed them. Although the play never completely clarifies the shooter’s motives, he begins by ignoring the ghosts and eventually becomes much more reflective and regretful.

According to “The voices of  ‘Bang, Bang You’re Dead,’” the playwright William Mastrosimone hopes the play reaches out to potential killers in the audience and speaks to students by raising awareness through watching their own peers perform.

HMTC co-President Rebecca Salzhauer (12) knew of the play from her theater work outside of school. She suggested the idea of a staged reading during a discussion about the Las Vegas shooting in her advisory, Salzhauer said.

“I think especially when huge tragedies happen, you can feel kind of helpless,” Salzhauer said. “But I know that at school, theater is a platform for my activism, and I can put on a play that will affect people’s beliefs.”

After receiving a positive response in her advisory, Salzhauer pitched the idea in a HMTC meeting with HMTC co-President Benjamin Rosenbaum (11), Theatre Arts teacher Alexis Dahl, and Manager of the Department of Theatre, Dance & Film Studies Jonathan Nye, who were all excited about holding a performance of Bang Bang You’re Dead as well.

“When I read the play, I tapped into emotions I hadn’t been expressing about what’s happening right now,” Dahl said. “Why is this such a common thing that we can go through our day and not halt?”

“I was so excited when Rebecca told me she was setting this up because I think theater is and has to be more significant than just for the purposes of entertainment,” Binah Schatsky (12), who played a role in the reading, said.

“I’ve never been able to serve a greater whole organized by someone else in this regard, and I think that will make me feel more like a diligent ensemble member working for a greater cause,” Schatsky said.

Salzhauer then sent out an email asking if people were interested in participating. “We wanted to get the idea out to everybody, even the teachers, because this is something that affected not just the students; it affected the entire community,” Rosenbaum said. 

The email also included an option to write what a student or faculty member loves doing now and looks forward to doing in the future. The answers were added to a section of the script where the murdered characters discuss what they long for after death.

Responses for things people love included “the first taste of coffee on a Saturday morning,” watching TV, and playing chess and video games, while people said they hope to someday decorate an apartment, publish a novel, travel more, perform in Pippin, or “be woken by my baby in the middle of the night and get to cuddle with her until she falls asleep.”

“It makes it very personal,” Salzhauer said. “The play is very powerful, and something really interesting about it is that it doesn’t have a solution. That’s why we’re following it immediately with a discussion to talk about what we can do as individuals.”

In order to make the show feel more realistic, the adults are played by teachers at the school, Salzhhauer said.

Co-Director of the Office for Identity, Culture, and Institutional Equity John Gentile is one of the teachers participating in the reading. One of the most important things about the play is that it complicates the shooter’s motives rather than simplifying them, he said.

In today’s world, violence like this can be perceived as okay, Gentile said. The issue is how to counteract that reality for young people while remaining a community and how to learn to hold people accountable but not be self-righteous, Gentile said.

“The work of ICIE and of equity and inclusion is that we’re trying to find better avenues to express discomfort and pain,” Gentile said. “When people feel invalidated or unseen, there’s often other ways in which they try to become seen or try to become validated.”

Priyanka Vorungati (10), who acted in the reading, hoped to take away a sense of closure and a sense of community, she said.

“[The school] is a place we can feel safe,” Vorungati said. “Sometimes fear is just a construct of our own.”

However, the issues like mental health and gun violence that the play addresses are real and crucial to think about, Charlotte Pinney (11) said. Pinney played “The Shadow,” a sinister voice in the shooter’s head who eggs him on throughout the play.

“I know that immediately after the news of the shooting there was an email that went out acknowledging that there are always people at Horace Mann who are ready and available to talk, which I think is the greatest gift of our school,” Dahl said. “I would just hope to build off that and say if people need to tap into their emotions through art, this is a way to do that.”

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HMTC performs “Bang Bang You’re Dead,” opens conversation