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Arts & Music

'Amish Project' turns school shooting into theater

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: April 11, 2013 at 11:02 AM

In the wake of a horrific school shooting, Jessica Dickey wrote “The Amish Project.”

Though the characters are fictional in this 2008 debut, the play is set in the Amish community where a gunman wreaked havoc on the West Nickel Mines School in 2006.

American Stage Theatre Company will produce this emotional and evocative drama, in conjunction briefly with the company's current staging of Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin's “When the World Was Green” (through April 21).

The two-week overlap puts the company to task, but the subject matter of both shows make for well-placed synergy.

“We curated 'When the World Was Green' and 'The Amish Project' together,” said director Todd Olson. “Both start with an act of violence, both are about repair after violence.”

In October 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV walked into a one-room Pennsylvania schoolhouse, lined up 10 girls near a chalkboard and shot them, killing five. Then he turned the gun on himself.

Immediately following the tragedy, the Amish community expressed forgiveness. Some even attended the shooter's funeral. Their compassion shocked the world.

This play explores the extraordinary goodness that arose from those bloody ashes.

A lot of creative thought went into rendering the Nickel Mines schoolroom without dismantling the set for “When the World Was Green.” The latter takes place in a prison. Ironically, the schoolhouse became a prison when those girls were held hostage.

“Imagine a set of ten Plexiglass doors that look like chalkboard pieces. For 'The Amish Project,' all of the walls of ['When the World's'] prison cell are in fact doors. When [six-year-old Velda] draws pictures of the girls who were shot, she's drawing through Plexiglass. At the end, all of the 10 girls have been drawn onto the set. It's really flexible that way,” Olson said.

Actress Katherine Michelle Tanner plays all of the roles, including Velda and the killer, to tell the story as it took place in the classroom.

Dickey thoroughly researched the incident before penning her play. She visited the site of the schoolhouse, which had been razed. Three trees were planted there in memoriam.

On her website, Dickey wrote, “It is my private prayer that this play … somehow honor the goodness they forged in the face of such tragedy. In my mind, that is the legacy of the Nickel Mines shooting.”

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