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Revival of 'LIT401' gives voice to school shooting victims

In 2007, Drew Piatek was comfortably ensconced in the theater department of the University at Buffalo.

He and his fellow students had developed close a camaraderie that seemed unshakable, often spending long days and nights together as they learned the craft of acting and directing.

Then, in April of that year, an armed student walked onto the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and slaughtered 32 people. Piatek's sense of security, along with that of millions of students across the country, was shattered. They understood then that their classrooms and residence halls were not the safe havens they once imagined them to be.

Dismayed by what they saw as simplistic and incomplete media coverage of the shooting, Piatek and fellow student Gordon Tashjian sat down and wrote.

The result, a jarring one-act play called "LIT401: A School Shooting in One Act," was at at first rejected by UB administrators for its violent content. But he went on to produce the show at the school, later taking it to Manhattan Repertory Theatre in New York City and the former ALT Theatre in Buffalo's Pierce Arrow Complex.

In the wake of the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla. in February and the national movement it prompted, Piatek is bringing the show back for a four-day run in Shea's Smith Theatre. As in past productions, each performance will be paired with a talk-back so that audiences and actors can collectively process the traumatic events that unfolded onstage.

For Piatek and his collaborators, the play is an attempt to put the spotlight where they felt it belonged: Not on the violent aftermath of these events, but on the difficult lives of the students who suffer from and perpetrate these all-too-commonplace atrocities.

Jes Tokarski, left, appears with Leigh Erin Jass, Sara Popp and Lucas DeNies appear in "LIT401: A School Shooting in One Act." (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

"Really it was a platform for students to speak their minds," Piatek said. "The news covers the aftermath all the time. That's really all you can cover." But, he added, the experience of attending a theatricalized version of a school shooting could "motivate people to listen to students about the issue."

In fact, thanks to the eloquent students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Americans are finally starting to give those voices some weight.

"I think it's amazing that those students' voices are being heard so loud," Piatek said. "I think it's easy when something happens not so close to home to not be engaged," Piatek said. "It's about getting people up and out of their seats and saying, 'This can happen in my community. What can we do and who can we support to make sure this doesn't happen?'"

Theater Preview

"LIT401: A School Shooting in One Act"

April 12 to 15 in Shea's Smith Theatre, 658 Main St. Tickets are $15 to $20. Call 847-0850 or visit sheas.org.

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