Before Oct. 24, the cast of Marysville-Pilchuck High School’s “The Twilight Zone” saw their production as hilarious, a play that was so funny because it was so ridiculously dark.
But that was before the shooting that left five classmates dead and one injured. Before the make-believe on stage became too real.
In the wake of the shooting, the 14 members of the drama club decided the show would go on, but it wouldn’t be the same show they had rehearsed for months. The original show was four acts, re-created for the stage from episodes of Rod Serling’s television series.
The first act was about a man who finds himself in a post-apocalyptic world where everyone has died but him; the second, a monster 6-year-old boy; the third, a killer living doll; and the fourth, a man who sees and then shoots a gremlin on the wing of an airplane. Three of the acts involved guns. Some involved attempted murder or suicide.
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“The Twilight Zone” they’ll perform Friday and Saturday in the high-school auditorium is also four acts, and the titles and premise of each are the same. But the nuclear holocaust is all a dream. There’s no attempted murder or suicide. The guns are replaced with Twinkies.
“We hope this is an escape for everyone,” sophomore Laura Koty said.
It’s an escape they need, club members said. For some, their time on stage is the only time they aren’t thinking about what happened in the school cafeteria on that Friday.
As they sat in a circle in the high-school drama room, the students from Marysville-Pilchuck and Marysville Getchell — the high schools participate in theater together — discussed the opening weekend’s performances. The actors had done well, they all agreed, especially considering the script hadn’t been finalized until a few days before. Junior Atrayu Sweet had to learn a whole new part. At one point, sophomore Skylar Van der Putten improvised his lines.
“But the audience probably couldn’t tell,” Marysville Getchell sophomore Elizabeth Price said, laughing.
The productions are some of the first attempts at normalcy, they said. Some of the students attended shooting victim Gia Soriano’s funeral in Everett last weekend just hours before their third show.
“As the world forgets, we’re still intertwined [with the tragedy],” junior Taylor Collier said. “But now people won’t think of MPHS as just a school. They’ll think of it as the place where the shooting happened.”
“It’s like a scar on our campus,” added senior Evan Stabach, who narrates the performances with his portrayal of Rod Serling.
The last rehearsal with the original script was one day before the shooting. When classes resumed a week later, drama teacher Roy Klementsen told his students they could cancel the show altogether or revise the script. One student who had two big parts dropped out, saying she wouldn’t be able to concentrate.
“I thought it should be their decision,” said Klementsen, who graduated from Marysville-Pilchuck in 1983.
The remaining students said they all agreed staging the show in its original form wasn’t an option. So they went through the script page by page for two days, taking out anything that might be an emotional trigger. Even a toy gun could elicit memories from students who had been in the cafeteria at the time of the shooting.
“It’s all become very real, and that’s not funny anymore,” Koty said. “This changes your perspective.”
The revised script is part of a larger effort the schools are undertaking to eliminate anything that could cause students to relive the trauma of that day, Superintendent Becky Berg said.
“I long for the day when our kids can be kids again,” Berg said. “This is all part of that process.”
Last Saturday, about 90 minutes before showtime, the students started to get their makeup and costumes ready. For a few hours, they could forget that they are members of what one student described as “a club you didn’t know you were in, or want to be a part of.” They talked about their crushes, the cold weather, the classes they didn’t really like.
For a few hours on stage, they could just be drama kids again.
Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2530 or firstname.lastname@example.org