Before teenagers in America knew who Osama Bin Laden was, before the war, before the Anthrax scares, before the suicide bombings there was another terror. A terror that still remains but has been overshadowed and almost willingly put aside. Perhaps people would like to forget the classroom violence that came before September 11, 2001, but it hasn't gone away. It's still there. Kids are still taking guns to school. Blood is still pouring on cafeteria floors and test papers.

In 1999, before Columbine became a household name, there were other tragedies rocking families in America. In Jonesboro, Arkansas four middle school students, all girls, and a teacher were killed and eleven others wounded when two boys set off the fire alarm and shot at them. It was the third school shooting to make national news. People were alarmed and terrified at the sudden trend that seemed to be occurring.

Two months later in Springfield, Oregon it happened again. This time in a high school leaving one dead and twenty five wounded. The boy in this scenario, Kip Kinkel, opened fire with a rifle in the cafeteria where students were gathered for an honors assembly. It wasn't discovered until after the shooting at the school that he had also murdered his parents that morning.

Suddenly middle class, white, teenagers were looking more and more dangerous. Students who didn't "fit in" or were picked on became "at risk teens." It wasn't the jocks that were being was the geeks, the nerds, the dorks and the weirdos. Each one picked on traditionally in schools of all types. Each one suddenly transformed into a land mine.

It was a week after the shooting at Thurston High School in Oregon that playwright William Mastrosimone, known for such pieces as The Woolgatherer, Extremities, and The Burning Season, was confronted with the possibility of such tragedy in his own community. When asking how school went one of his children "casually mentioned" some cryptic words scrawled on the blackboard. He was shaken to the core. Suddenly his children weren't safe. He was sending them off to school and wasn't so sure they would be coming home. And all because an anonymous student had written "I'm going to kill everyone in this class. And the teacher, too." in chalk.

Needless to say he had a hard time sleeping that night. Any parent would. His reaction was to pour out his feelings on paper. What he ended up with was the first draft of Bang Bang You're Dead.

We are all bonded by our anxiety that tomorrow morning a potential killer will rise up to act out his fantasy using us as figures in a video game.

The Play

The play Mastrosimone wrote was an atypical look into the mind of a teenage killer. Its primary character is Josh, a boy in jail for shooting his parents and classmates. Instead of a look at the path to destruction..the audience sees what goes on after that step has been taken. When it's too late to take it back. They see Josh interact with incarnations of his victims, see him struggle with his actions and their result. It's a play that reaches out to that kid in the audience that might be the next Kip Kinkel. It's a play that reaches out to the rest of us and demands we take responsibility for our role in these horrible outcomes. The angry administrator with no hope that a student could be good, the bully, the dismissive parent; each of these characters takes on a role in the play.

Bang Bang You're Dead was first performed on April 7, 1999 at Thurston High School. It was met with some opposition at first, as community members were shocked and outraged that Mastrosimone would attempt it so soon after the shooting there. However the kids cast in the play believed in its message, and a few of them had been victims in the shooting. After community leaders looked past the violent title and actually read the play, they realized the affect it could have.

To put on the play you need only 11 people and relatively few props. It's downloadable from the web for free, as Mastrosimone didn't want to make money but rather spread a message. And if your school, church, friends or whomever decides to put on the show you can add the opening date to the website's calendar. So far it's been downloaded over 100,000 times.

"Bang Bang You’re Dead" is directed at the potential killer—the kid in the audience who harbors homicidal feelings towards others.

The Movie

A Showtime Original Picture it first aired on October 13, 2003 starring:

Val Duncan......... Tom Cavanaugh
Trevor Adams..... Ben Foster
Sean .................. Randy Harrison
Ellie Milford........ Janel Moloney
Jenny Dahlquist... Jane McGregor

Directed by Guy Ferland
Written by William Mastrosimone
Executive Producers Norman Stephens and William Mastrosimone

In the movie adaptation we meet Trevor Adams, our main character. Trevor is a kid labeled as "at risk" by his teachers and community. It takes place after Trevor has made a threat to blow up the football team, his antagonizers. His father, who runs a local dry cleaners, is under a great deal of stress as he loses business from community members afraid of Trevor. His mother tries to pretend nothing happened, that everything is ok and he was just going through a phase. His classmates are wary of him and his school thinks he's a lost cause. The only people who believe in Trevor are his Drama teacher, Mr. Duncan, and the new girl, Jenny. As much as Mr. Duncan is the friend of the students, the teacher that believes in the kids and their potential, Ms. Milford represents that other breed of teacher. The one who has been sapped of her hope and only sees "The Mad Bomber" in Trevor.

In the movie Mr. Duncan gets students together and attempts to put on Bang Bang You're Dead, with Trevor cast as the main character and Jenny as one of the victims. While trying to get past everyone's violent expectations of him and deal with the emotions swirling inside him Trevor befriends Sean, the slightly twisted leader of an outcast group of students known as the Trogs.

That's all I'm going to say about this movie as I'd hate to give away too much. I encourage you to see it to get the full impact of its message. Honestly it left me in tears, and not for the reasons you might think. Rather as I watched the movie I couldn't help but relive the feelings I had in high school. I was a floater in school through every grade until college. A floater is one of those kids that gets along with people in every clique but somehow manages not to be a member of any of them. And because I wasn't a member of any clique I was on occasion a victim of all of them. From being pushed, kicked, punched, slapped, harassed and even an attempted shove down some stairs I suffered through it all. If ever there was a pot ready to boil over at any second it was me. I don't know why I didn't erupt. Perhaps because the opportunity never arose. Perhaps because as much as I suffered the indignities of childhood I always had a small group of friends ready to support me and help me heal. I think that everyone can find something in this film to relate to, whether you were the bullied or the bully.

Sometimes I hate being alive
but I'm too afraid to be dead.

The Play,
The Movie,

The first two quotes are from the playwright, the last from the play.