New play at Beacon Theatre Workshop explores school shootings

New play at Beacon Theatre Workshop explores school shootings

Members of the cast of “Declaration,” a play that explores the before, during and after of a school shooting. The Beacon Theatre Workshop will premiere the play on Jan. 10 and 11.

WOONSOCKET – In January, the Beacon Theatre Workshop at Beacon Charter High School for the Arts will explore one of the most difficult topics facing high schoolers today, gun violence in schools, when they premiere “Declaration,” a new play by California playwright Jonathan Dorf.

The students of the Beacon Theatre Workshop have never turned away from tough topics in the past, tackling such politically charged classics as “Twelve Angry Jurors” and “Aida,” but “Declaration” may present their greatest challenge yet. The play, written for performance in a high school setting, explores the before, during, and after of a school shooting, placing the young performers in the midst of a nationwide movement to raise awareness and challenge standing policies related to gun violence in schools.

Jason Robert LeClaire, the school’s theater director, said the play presents an emotional challenge for students, as it asks them to imagine a scenario where an active shooting incident takes place in their school. In addition to performances by members of the school’s contemporary theater class, the play uses voiceovers by faculty members to portray a realistic situation.

“It’s not about gore and shock value. What it is about is getting into the empathy of students,” he explained. “It’s immediately relatable to pretty much everybody, and that’s why we have the impact.”

California-based Dorf will fly out for the premiere, and all performances will include a talkback discussion with the writer and Woonsocket public safety officials. In addition to the performances, the Beacon Theatre Workshop, in collaboration with Dorf, has launched the Declaration Initiative, a nationwide movement that encourages schools to join in performing the play on its premiere weekend or on Feb. 14, the anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla. All proceeds from the Beacon performance and other performances around the country will be donated to March For Our Lives, an organization that advocates for tighter gun control and stronger prevention policies around school shootings.

For the students involved, the play offers a deeper look into an issue that, while not affecting them directly, has become a regular part of their high school lives. In an interview with The Breeze, student actors recalled participating in active shooter drills several times per year and said the play forced them to think more seriously about how they would react if they or a loved one found themselves in that situation.

“It’s happened so often recently, everybody’s become numb to it, and hopefully this play will help them realize even though this is an occurrence that happens so often, this shouldn’t be the normal,” said Bethany Crawford, a junior from Warwick.

Crawford added that while she has received some pushback from individuals who see the play in a political light, her participation has also sparked conversation among friends and classmates. According to LeClaire, the goal of the performance and accompanying movement is to foster discussion as well as bring awareness to the realities of potential gun violence facing high schoolers today.

“There are lots and lots of far more lasting effects than just these isolated incidents,” he said. “It’s kind of changed the nature of education in general as far as another sector we have to worry about and teach these students.”

As of interview time, eight schools around the country had pledged to participate in the Declaration Initiative, with several more likely to join up by the January performance. Alana Carroll, a junior from North Smithfield, was one of several students who said she felt her participation went beyond performing a high school play.

“I’m happy to be a part of this show, because this is a really important message that needs to get out, not just to America, but to the world,” she said.

“Declaration” will be shown at the Beacon Theatre Workshop, 320 Main St., on Thursday and Friday, Jan. 10 and 11, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 and go on sale this week at beacon.booktix.com. To learn more about the Declaration Initiative, visit www.facebook.com/declarationplay.