Award Winning ‘columbinus’ Explores Identity, Acceptance, and More - Humboldt State Now

Award Winning ‘columbinus’ Explores Identity, Acceptance, and More

The Theatre, Film and Dance Department at Humboldt State University presents “columbinus,” a play that looks at issues of alienation, hostility and social pressure in high schools and was inspired by the April 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.

The HSU production opens December 2nd and runs for two weekends in the Gist Hall Theatre.

The tragedy sparked debate over high-school culture, bullying, and gun-control laws; and raised concerns about teen angst, parenting, video games, popular music, the internet, and school security among others. The play, which deals with these issues in a compelling way, began as a staged reading at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. It premiered in Silver Spring, Maryland in 2005 and then Off-Broadway in 2006.

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“columbinus” opens Dec. 2 and continues Dec. 3, 8, 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m., with one matinee performance at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 11.

The columbinus script was written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli and the original production was created by the United States Theatre Project. The first act of the play is set in a stereotypical fictional American high school and follows the lives and struggles of eight teenage archetypes. The second act presents chilling details of the massacre as it focuses on facts taken from the perpetrators’ videos and personal journals, illustrating the days approaching and including the shootings and the suspects’ suicides. The original production received several awards including the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play.

The production is directed by Department of Theatre, Film and Dance Assistant Professor Troy Lescher. Lescher saw the off-Broadway production and “knew immediately that this script would be a unique learning opportunity for students as well as a powerful play for university students to bring to life. It is a story that is supposed to be told through the lens of young adults and it investigates some of the difficult challenges and complex issues that contemporary adults encounter. It certainly explores topics that we do not always want or like to discuss when, in fact, we probably should be talking with young adults about these topics. columbinus absolutely resonates with our students and I foresee it being a powerful and meaningful experience for all of those involved (i.e. cast, designers, crew, audience etc.). Given the violent aspects of our culture as well as the number of obstacles that high school students continue to endure, columbinus certainly maintains an abundant amount of relevance in 2016.”

The play examines a multitude of themes including identity, acceptance, success, bullying, depression, body image, eating disorders, family, sexual assault and friendship. Lescher explains that he is trying to specifically highlight the themes of adolescence, pressure and miscommunication. “Despite the serious nature of the play, there is a lot of humor in the script,” he says. Lescher believes that people should see the play because it invites audiences to carefully consider today’s teenagers and the true-life realities and pressures they, unfortunately, have to confront. Furthermore, to consider that the concept of “future” is virtually non-existent to some young adults because they are so focused on just trying to survive the daily hardships of the “present.”

It is to the University’s credit that this play is being produced at this time given the current climate of uncertainty in both national and local politics. The arts in general, and live theatre in particular offer, us an important opportunity to step back and examine our priorities, our prejudices, our strengths and our weaknesses. The word “theatre” is based on the Greek “theatron” which translates as “a place to see.” For centuries, the theatre has served as a place that represents and reflects the human condition. Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Thornton Wilder said, “We live in what is, but we find one thousand ways to not face it. Theatre strengthens our faculty to face it.” While the art form of theatre intends to create community and examine topics which may be uncomfortable, we recognize that in this current climate many people are feeling vulnerable and emotionally taxed to capacity. Given the provocative and emotional nature of the subject matter in columbinus, please use your judgment as to whether this production is right for you at this time.

HSU Counseling and Psychology Services staff psychologist Dr. Craig Beeson will be leading post-play discussions following the weekend performances. These discussions will provide an opportunity in a group setting to share and process some of the reactions that may have been brought up in the play.

The cast consists of eight actors, with seven from HSU and one from CR. The production opens Dec. 2 and continues Dec. 3, 8, 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m. There will be one matinee performance beginning at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 11. Due to adult content and language, the production is recommended for ages 16 and older. General admission is $10.00. Students and Seniors are $8.00. HSU students are admitted for free. Parking is free on weekends. For tickets, please call 707-826-3928. For more information, call 707-826-3566.