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Fall 2016 Studio Lab #3: “Columbinus”

posted on November 18th, 2016

Emmett Carnahan '20 (Loner/Dylan Klebold) and Keegan Kelly '17 in columbinus. Photo: Dante Haughton '19 

Emmett Carnahan ’20 (Loner/Dylan Klebold) and Keegan Kelly ’17 in columbinus. Photo: Dante Haughton ’19


On April 20, 1999, the most infamous high school massacre took place inside the walls of Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado. Fifteen kids, including the shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were dead by 12:08PM.  Though a lot has changed between 1999 and today, the world is still full of questions and chaos. Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli’s play columbinus—a work inspired by Columbine that exposes the harsh pressures of high school—strives to offer insight into this American tragedy, and into those that followed it. In search of any instance of truth, director Lily Kamp ‘18 and her cast of eight handle this play with respect, maturity, and a type of tenderness that allows an otherwise unspeakable reality to be brutally said aloud.

The space and music immediately differentiate the characters from one another as Kamp shows how each archetypal student prepares for school in the morning. Costume designer Julia Kelliher ‘18 helps to further delineate these traditional roles with classic items like a white baseball cap and two dark trench coats.  Each character’s style and music taste mix together to form a fully established identity.

Initially, the two outcasts— Freak/Eric Harris (Ethan Embry ’19) and Loner/Dylan Klebold (Emmett Carnahan ’20)— sit apart, one on each side of the stage, both played with disquieting fervor. Though the two are far from each other, we can tell that they perceive the events onstage the same way, which signifies their similar perceptions of life. Isolated, Freak and Loner sit at the ends of the stage as if they were sitting at the heads of messy dining room tables; they are powerful, but they are also underestimated—at home, at school, and originally, by themselves.

Keegan Kelly '17. Photo: Dante Haughton '19

Keegan Kelly ’17. Photo: Dante Haughton ’19

Projections by Chris Monaco ‘18 clearly guide the show through an average high school day by stating each setting (“Cafeteria,” “Work”) on a blackboard upstage.  After school and at home when each character is  “Alone,” they reveal their secrets.  But even in this moment when the characters are supposedly engaging in a type of confessional, all their dialogue overlaps in a tumultuous configuration. Their secrets remain unheard and unknown.

In other moments of self-reflection, lighting designer Omi Furst ’18 creates an overcast setting with a green light that separates Freak, Loner and Rebel (Bianca Thompson ’20) from those around them.  The audience directly enters the heads of the characters they are seeing, without leaving or disrupting the characters’ daily high school lives.

Freak and Loner’s disturbing soliloquies grow, turning into monologues and then into their ultimate exchange of dialogue. Freak and Loner become Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.  Monaco’s projections become more abstract, but they also become more factual. One setting is labeled “Basement Tapes,” as the play’s timeline begins to intersect with the actual event more and more each moment. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s secrets become national headlines.

From left: Emmett Carnahan '20 (Loner/Dylan Klebold) and Ethan Embry '19 (Freak/Eric Harris) in columbinus. Photo: Dante Haughton

From left: Emmett Carnahan ’20 (Loner/Dylan Klebold) and Ethan Embry ’19 (Freak/Eric Harris) in columbinus. Photo: Dante Haughton

There is still no conclusion. There is no comprehensible conclusion to write.  There are only facts. There is the notion that this will happen again, because it already has. The behavior that causes these events is ever present, whether it arises from emotions of hate or a sense of total detachment.  There is no way to justify it, but Stephen Karam, PJ Paparelli and Lily Kamp all invite you­—dare you—to at least ask, “Why?”


Nina Slowinski ’19 is a staff writer for the Skidmore Theater Living Newsletter.

Photo Gallery

Production Credits

Written by: Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli
Directed by: Lily Kamp ’18
Stage Manager: Kate Greenberg ’19
Projections and Sound Designer: Chris Monaco ’18
Lighting Designer: Omi Furst ’18
Costume Designer: Julia Kelliher ’18
Ensemble: Hannah Blau ’19, Emmett Carnahan ’20, Hannah Curtis ’20, Liel Dolev ’20, Ethan Embry ’19, Keegan Kelly ’17, Nick Leonard ’20, and Bianca Thompson ’19

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