It took a year and a half for Hicksville’s Alix Black to bring her creative vision to the stage of the EastLine Theatre in Wantagh. Before making her directorial debut, Black researched a project she felt would be most important to tell her community. The 23-year-old chose “columbinus,” a play written in 2007 by P.J. Paparelli and Stephen Karam, which dramatizes the events of the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999.
Black graduated from George Washington University in 2018 with a major in marketing and international business and a minor in theater. She has been involved in theater since she was 4. She directed a number of plays in college, and has been involved with EastLine since its opening in 2011.
For the past year and a half, Black has worked at Edelman Advertising in Manhattan. At the same time she started there, she was given the green light by EastLine — a 42-seat not-for-profit theater known for staging innovative productions — to make her directorial debut.
“For the last year and a half, I‘ve been diving into research about Columbine, the time period, other school shootings and mass shootings,” Black said. “When I initially interviewed with the [EastLine] board and told them this is what I wanted to do, I explained to them why I thought it was important.”
When “columbinus” opened on Nov. 9, Black’s vision became reality.
Black was born in 1996, just three years before Columbine, but she has come to understand its significance as the first highly publicized mass school shooting. “At the March For Our Lives, Emma Gonzalez basically said that ‘we are the school shooting generation,’” Black said, referring to a survivor of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who became a gun-control activist. “People my age, we were the ones in the school buildings during this time period. Even so, the play provides an important message to any age group.”
That message is portrayed in the downfall of two tragic characters in “columbinus.” In the play’s first act, the eight characters have no formal names or surnames; rather, they are teenage stereotypes of the time — A.P., Faith, Loner, Prep, Freak, Rebel, Jock and Perfect. To accurately depict those stereotypes, Black enlisted the help of Adelphi student Bridget Foley, who was appointed the play’s dramaturge, and researched 1990s culture to help the actors become more familiar with their characters’ roles.
As the first act comes to an end, Loner and Freak find common misery in their high school existence. In the second act, Loner, played by Anthony Noto, becomes Dylan Klebold, and Freak, played by William Meurer, becomes Eric Harris, the two real-life shooters at Columbine.
In the third act, there are dramatizations of surviving students’ firsthand accounts of the shooting, which help tell the story of how the psyches of the shooters devolved over time. This steers the theme to gun violence, and ultimately, gun safety.
“What drove me to this piece in general is constantly asking ourselves, ‘What are we going to do?’” Black said. “I’ve been reading up on legislation. I know how important it is voting on a local level, but I’m doing something local in a different way. Having people lend three hours and a small chunk of change to get a different experience and perspective is important.”
Last Saturday, “columbinus” had its final performance. “It was a beautiful challenge,” Black said, “and I never thought it would end.”
Audience members gave her solemn and modest congratulations after the performances, she said. Rather than standing ovations and roses thrown at the stage, the play is intended to evoke something entirely different: an unfamiliar and uncomfortable reaction from theatergoers. The sobering action and dialogue lead to reflection; the play has no happy ending. In fact, it is bleak by design, because in reality, the ending has yet to take place. The Columbine massacre set a precedent, all the other shootings that have happened since have had a similar theme — and they will continue to happen, Black said, until the country’s outlook on gun control changes.
“Of course, you want that prideful moment of affirmation in achievement,” she said. “People openly cried. There was pure silence at the end of some nights. I could see the energy they felt on their face as they had left the theater, and after reflecting on it, I think that’s OK. It is correct.”