The Shakespeare Studio of Montgomery will allow West Virginia students to have a voice in honoring the memory of the students and adults slain in the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings of Dec. 14, 2012.
On that day, Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut. His victims included 20 Sandy Hook students and six adult staff members, according to published reports. Lanza, who killed his mother ahead of the shootings, committed suicide after the school shootings.
At 7 p.m. on Dec. 14, 2020, a nationwide observance of the Sandy Hook shootings will unfold via students across the United States who have lived with the knowledge and experience of school shootings throughout their school years. Several brief plays have been written by high school students dealing with the theme of school shootings, and the plays will be performed on Dec. 14 to encourage continuing discussion on the problem of gun violence, as well as possible solutions.
Renowned Chicago-based theater director Michael Cotey is the producer of the project, #ENOUGH (Plays to End Gun Violence).
Cotey's mentor is Bill Rauch, artistic director of the Perelman Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center in New York and former artistic director of the world-renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. Rauch, who was a driving force behind the Cornerstone Theater Company's residency in Montgomery beginning in 1989, is advising #ENOUGH organizers and recently contacted Beach Vickers, director/producer of the Shakespeare Studio of Montgomery, and asked him to help recruit some West Virginia participants for the #ENOUGH project.
Middle and high school students from states across the United States will read the plays on Dec. 14. They were not written by West Virginians, but Vickers is appreciative that Rauch reached out to bring West Virginians into the nationwide play-reading festival.
"When I lived in California, I attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival several times with my Shakespeare Studio assistant director, Tory Casey of Charleston," Vickers said. "We met (Rauch), who remembers Montgomery fondly from when he brought his Cornerstone Theater company to perform here just after he was graduated from Yale."
According to Vickers, Rauch — because of his memories of his time in Montgomery — has been supportive of the Shakespeare Studio of Montgomery and has been instrumental in bringing professional actors from OSF to the Kanawha Valley in recent years for community and school presentations.
Working with Cotey, Vickers has orchestrated the West Virginia portion of #ENOUGH. Three plays will be presented by students from four area schools (Riverside, George Washington and St. Albans high schools and Winfield Middle). Participating will be Fiona Sullivan, Will Naylor, Braeden Grady, Jacob Clements, Rylea Jordin (Riverside), Colton Cade Sparks, Emilie Hoosier, Ashley Miller (St. Albans), Olivia Casey (George Washington) and Braylie Smolder (Winfield Middle).
"We are presenting three 10-minute plays," said Vickers. "They are not about Sandy Hook, but portray student's-eyes perspectives of how it feels going to school after Newtown."
"Much thanks is due Cathy Doebler, director of BlackRoot Theatre in Belle, and Adam Bryan, director of the Alban Arts Center in St. Albans, who recruited most cast members from students they have trained," Vickers added. "I am mindful of protecting the health of students and audiences. We had to come up with a way to participate without getting together in person. We decided to rehearse and then perform live by streaming the reading online on Zoom meetings and YouTube."
Vickers admits there have been some technical glitches while rehearsing. Updates or changes in the programming will be posted on The Shakespeare Studio Montgomery, WV Facebook page and on the YouTube channel, Montgomery Shakespeare.
Besides addressing gun violence issues on a broader scale, Vickers says the upcoming performances help fulfill an important mission.
"We feel continuing performing arts like this can help bring joy and inspire public discourse, as well as reigniting a needed feeling of community togetherness while we are still isolated by Covid," he said. "I hope our experience with continuing live theater this way during the current pandemic will inspire us to do other plays, even Shakespeare, live online in the future."
The plays are free on Zoom. Afterward, the audience will be able to interact with the students and discuss the issues. The link to Zoom to see the plays is as follows: Go to zoom.us and enter Meeting ID 828 5644 2228 and Passcode 261992. You can also sign in directly at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82856442228 and enter the passcode. Viewers can also follow along on YouTube at https://youtu.be/jLhZ6Xig05U.
For more, search #ENOUGH NATIONWIDE READING on Twitter.
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Vickers is the founding artistic director and producer of the Shakespeare Studio of Montgomery. Since moving back to his hometown of Montgomery in 2018 after working in Los Angeles and Houston, he has organized Shakespeare productions and other theater performances in the local community. For example, the group sponsored Shakespeare plays in Montgomery by the Alban Arts Center of St. Albans and the Rustic Mechanicals of Clarksburg. It has also presented historical reenactments of famous Americans like Minnie Pearl and Benjamin Franklin through the History Alive! program of the West Virginia Humanities Council. Additionally, the studio has hosted West Virginia tours of classical performances and lectures by professional performers from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
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