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Colorado Springs high school program brings together students and playwrights on topic of violence

May 17, 2017 Updated: May 24, 2017 at 12:25 pm
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Mitchell High School Junior Vivica Stewart, center, joins others in presenting a flash scene Friday, May 12, 2017 at the school's auditorium. Several student and adult playwrights presented the scenes focusing on the theme "Viewpoints on Violence." Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

One storyline detailed a cafeteria scene at a school where students are allowed to carry guns - and teachers are not.

Another was about a teenager being verbally abused by her dad, while being bullied on social media by her peers.

Five high school students and their adult playwright collaborators eagerly took the stage of the Mitchell High School auditorium Friday to read from their works, called flash scenes.

The adult playwrights were Phil Ginsburg, Warren Epstein, Marissa Hebert, Jenny Maloney and Sue Bachman.

Several weeks before, the student and adult writers had been given the theme of "Viewpoints on Violence" and the task to create five pages of dialogue together. The theme was selected as a companion to University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Associate Vice Chancellor Kee Warner's "Moving Forward Through Violent Times" initiative. They met Monday evenings in the lobby of Springs Ensemble Theatre.

The first test was on May 1, when they gave readings of the scenes at UCCS. The Mitchell performance was an encore.

Before an audience of about 100 English and theater students, the playwrights read from scenes that titillated, shocked, entertained and moved. Graphic language and intense violence were par for the course.

"These were just artists working together," said Joye Cook-Levy, education coordinator at TheatreWorks, who put together the intergenerational playwriting program and community partnership along with Springs Ensemble Theatre and UCCS. It's a free program that all involved said will continue next year.

Holly Haverkorn, a theater teacher at Mitchell, said the beauty of the program is that it "got people from the students' generation and other generations to come together and see different viewpoints."

Junior Logan Dumanski and his playwright/collaborator, Bachman, together created "NRA High." The premise: What if everyone had guns and violence was encouraged. The school motto: "If someone gets in your way, blow 'em away."

Dumanski and Bachman read their work, with the help of a few other adult and student playwrights, acting out a scene in which students flex their firepower over teachers and "Headmaster Snake." Not everyone makes it out of the room alive.

Bachman, who works in The Gazette's advertising department and has written several plays, said while she's used to writing independently, she very much enjoyed the creative process working with Dumanski.

"It was fun to work with him because he wanted to come up with the dialogue and do the delivery all at once," she said.

Another scene, "Wild Between My Teeth," was written by Maloney and student Britnee McNeil. Maloney said this was her first time working with a high schooler, and the experience was "great. She really had some wonderful ideas. Playwriting was new to Britnee, but she's a natural storyteller."

McNeil said a friend inspired her to write the scene, which showed a girl being bullied on Facebook at the same time she is being yelled at by her father, who growls all sorts of cringe-worthy obscenities at her. As tension builds, the girl is pushed to the point where she cuts herself.

"We both wanted to do something on cyberbullying and the idea of violence against the self, considering the recent suicides that happened in the area," said Maloney, a local playwright and director with Springs Ensemble Theatre. "We wanted to look at what triggers people, and we think it's because they think they're not being heard; the world is so loud."

Other scenes involved a demon dog killing students, racial tensions and a look at what makes one student plan an attack on a school.

Cook-Levy asked the audience of students, sitting rapt and cross-legged on the stage, what image stayed with them after all the scenes were done.

"I had a feeling of sadness when the dad called his daughter a whore," one said.

"I liked all the plays. I felt really immersed every time something happened," said another.

Cook-Levy and Maloney said they are planning to expand the intergenerational playwriting program to four sites with "more kids and more adults."

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