The voices of Newtown come to Kent State Stark Theatre

26 Pebbles makes its way to the Kent State Stark Theatre. 

“26 Pebbles” makes its way to the Kent State Stark Theatre. 

Brynn Pennell

Kent State Stark Theatre’s “26 Pebbles” cast members are taking on the voices of Newtown, Connecticut, residents for their final production of the season.

The docudrama is based on verbatim transcriptions of residents recounting the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Opening night for “26 Pebbles” is Friday, April 13 at 7:30 p.m.

Director Brian Newberg elected to reproduce the play over a year and a half ago, unaware of how timely the production would end up.

“(The production) is unfortunately very, very timely,” Newberg said. “It is important we are talking about violence, assault gun violence. If Adam Lanza had been armed with a knife, or if Adam Lanza had a handgun, we would have had a tragedy, but it wouldn’t have been 26 lives.”

The script was written by Eric Ulloa, who traveled to Newtown a year after the shooting to talk to parents of students, residents and shop owners about continuing on with life after the tragedy. Ulloa wanted to do something to create a change about an event that deeply affected him, so he decided to use the power of words to make a difference.

“I think every time we have a mass shooting, we talk about it for a week and then it gets forgotten,” cast member Marie Kaplan said. “It is interesting that (Ulloa) wrote a play about something that happened five years ago, and we are still telling the story because it shouldn’t be forgotten. These were little kids, and we need to remember their story. This isn’t something that is just happening now, it has been happening and it needs to end.”

The main theme of the play isn’t focused on the mass murder of 26 people, but the hope, healing and building of the community.

“The play is about a number of themes in a time sequence,” Newberg said. “Getting to know the community before the tragedy, the day of the event and the aftermath. It is about the weeks and months following the event thinking, ‘How do we do this? How do we get through this?’”

Kent Stark’s Theatre Department and Counseling Services are teaming up to host awareness events on campus throughout the span of the play’s production.

“As Stark County’s public university, we take seriously our responsibility to not only educate the community, but to be an ever-present resource,” Dean Denise Seachrist said in an email. “Along with this significant theater production, our campus also has organized corresponding mental health awareness events. As community leaders, we are here to provide support wherever — and whenever — we can.”

Stark’s Campus Center will have a Hope Wall filled with positive messages for students to take the week of April 16-20. On April 19, Kent Stark will have certified therapy dogs on campus from the Dogs on Campus Pet Therapy program and hold a mental health resource fair from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Fine Arts Theatre is hosting a “26 Pebbles” pre-show panel discussion where faculty, staff and community members will come together to discuss issues surrounding topics covered in the play on April 21 from 4:30-6 p.m.

“You have to go through the darkness of the play to get the positive messages it has,” cast member Meredith Beatty said. “We can’t let these tragedies separate us in this time, we can’t be divided, that is what they want. We have to come together as a nation, as a community, as classmates and artists.”

Ticket prices are $10 for adults and $7 for senior citizens and non-KSU students. Tickets are free to all Kent State students with their student IDs.  

Performances begin April 13, 14, 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the Kent State Stark Theatre. Performances on April 15 and April 22 at 2 p.m. will be ASL-interpreted.

Brynn Pennell is the regional campuses reporter. Contact her at [email protected]