Raleigh students take a play that deals with a real-life tragedy to a national stage.
The subject matter is tough, but Sanderson High School students rise to the occasion.
This month, Sanderson’s Honors Theater class will perform “26 Pebbles,” a play about the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, at a national high school theater competition in Knoxville. Sanderson is one of only two Carolina high schools invited to participate at the event and students are raising money to pay for the trip.
The 28 students that comprise the production’s cast and crew won multiple awards at the state level, including accolades in costume design, acting, directing and top overall honors for their performance. Eric Ulloa’s play, published in 2017, is set in Newtown, Connecticut, and is based on interviews the playwright conducted with members of the community following the horrific school shooting, where 20 children and six adults were killed.
Allison Moreau, a junior in the class, plays Carol, a human resources director who had to help identify the child victims of the shooting to their parents. Allison says that, at first, she wasn’t sure about tackling such difficult subject matter, but, once the students did the table reading, she thought, “Wow, this is so powerful.”
The play’s power comes not only from the students’ portrayal of real people, and that their lines are Newtown residents’ actual words, but also from the premise that, when dealing in reality, there are no simple answers.
Allison’s mother, Amy Moreau, admires the play’s ability to show the bigger picture.
“I appreciate how this play doesn’t get political,” Amy says. “In a culture of sound bites, I just really appreciate [that they] are giving a voice to the complexity of the issue.”
Carol, Allison’s character, brings that complexity to life. Carol’s son has schizophrenia, and, when the details emerged about the shooter’s mental health history, many were quick to point to those diagnoses as the “reason” the shooting happened.
“One of Carol’s lines is really powerful to me,” Allison says. “[Carol] says, ‘It wasn’t 26 people who died that day, it was 28,’” referencing that the 26 count doesn’t include Lanza and his mother, who many portrayed as monsters.
Playing a woman who can sympathize with the Lanza family—a hard thing for many to do, to be sure—has been eye-opening, according to Allison.
“I have tried to notice those people who are outsiders at school, and have tried to reach out,” she says. “I’ve learned to admit I don’t know everything that’s going on in a person’s life … or what they go through when they leave school. So it’s really important to be kind.”
Her mother, Amy, says the play also made her consider new perspectives, such as people trying to grieve while media cameras were a constant presence.
“I grieved for them all over again,” Amy says. “I had never thought about that.”
An encore presentation of “26 Pebbles” kicks off Sanderson Theatre’s Cabaret Night February 1 at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $10, and can be purchased at the door or online at shstheatreensemble.weebly.com. Author Mandy Howard donated her payment for this story to Sanderson High School to help facilitate the students’ trip; Raleigh Magazine matched that donation. If you’d like to donate, go to gofundme.com and search SHS Theatre.