"Everyone has been bullied at some point in their life. Yes, I've been bullied. But I've learned to recognize when I have taken the actions a bully is known for," says Trey Hansen, the earnest young director of Bend Experimental Art Theatre's (BEAT) new student-run and produced play, Bang! Bang! You're Dead.
Sitting in on a rehearsal of the play last week, which revolves around a high school student who murders his parents and five classmates as a result of pervasive bullying, I thought about what bullying meant when I was in school. The late eighties were a time of kids showing their aggression through fistfights and name-calling. It was the standard brutality that never seemed to go much further than the literal schoolyard. Then came Columbine.
The teenagers producing Bang! Bang! were only children when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold changed the concept of what bullying can do to America's disaffected youth. The dress rehearsal was peppered with beautiful teens running lines in a play that seemed to reflect their catalog-perfect looks, their Pac-Sun style, their straightened hair and teeth. These kids looked nothing like the misfits of my own youth, the kids who suffered mercilessly because of the unholy trinity of being poor, lonely and abused.
I admit I felt skeptical, until I watched Alec Armijo practicing his role of Josh. The play is loosely based on Kip Kinkel's murder of his parents and two students at Oregon's own Thurston High in 1998. Armijo, with his slight build and expressive face, emulates Kinkel in a way that is effective and eerie. He fully immerses himself in the role, which is impressive for such a young actor.
Perhaps my judgment was wrong? Maybe you don't need to be wearing a black trench coat and dissecting Metallica lyrics to be a victim of the insidious culture of bullying.
"Alec arrived at our open audition. His skill and creativity are remarkable," Hansen says.
Best friends, Hansen and producer Parker Daines, started the search for a play to produce and direct, but slowly found it turning into a mission.
After the board of directors gave them two a thumbs up, Hansen delved into the plot of Bang! Bang! with an enthusiasm only youth can bring.
"The more I read, the more driven I became to express a moral. Good shows are a dime a dozen. A great show that alters the mindset of the public is rare," says Hansen.
This is the first time that B.E.A.T. is doing a show entirely produced by students. Everything from directing to casting to lighting to costuming comes down to these students and their desire, as Hansen hopes, to do "something meaningful."
If these students' passion for production is any indication, even in their early rehearsals, Bang! Bang! You're Dead will be a play that all high school students can come away from with a transformative experience, perhaps a heightened awareness of the repercussions of being picked on, the understanding that everyone, no matter their social stature or their body structure, has been made fun of at some point in their lives.
"Our goal is for [our audience] to recognize bullying in each of its many forms, and bring an end to it," says Hansen.