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After Thousand Oaks tragedy, Cal Lutheran University cancels performances of Columbine-centric play

Ashley Lee, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- When a gunman opened fire Wednesday night in Thousand Oaks, targeting a bar packed with college students and alumni, 12 people died, including a graduate of California Lutheran University.

The tragic headline was far too familiar to eight students at the school, who have been rehearsing for their staging of "columbinus," which centers on the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., nearly 20 years ago.

The two-hour, three-act play was set to open Thursday night, complete with a post-show conversation with its director and actors, as well as faculty members from the university's psychology and criminal justice departments.

However, the initial weekend's three performances through Saturday have since been canceled, along with Thursday's classes, said the school's media representative. At press time, the university was unsure whether the next four performances (Nov. 15-18) would still take place as scheduled.

The documentary drama, written by "The Humans" playwright Stephen Karam and the late PJ Paparelli, depicts the devastating events of Columbine on April 20, 1999, as well as its aftermath.

"I'm heartbroken to learn about the shooting in Thousand Oaks. My thoughts are with everyone affected by the shooting and the families of the victims," Karam said when reached by the Los Angeles Times on Thursday afternoon.

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"PJ's belief was that theater couldn't solve anything, but it could create space for a conversation about such incomprehensible violence, however unresolvable the questions around these senseless killings seem," Karam added. "I believe creating a dialogue is more healing than leading with the impulse to look away."

Written over four years of intense research, the unsanitized "columbinus" intertwines police evidence, excerpts from the two shooters' journals and interviews with parents, survivors and Littleton community leaders to illuminate the realities of America's adolescent culture.

The piece first premiered at Maryland's Round House Theatre in 2005, and a revised edition -- incorporating new survivor accounts from Columbine as well as the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. -- opened in Chicago in 2013.

The Cal Lutheran students putting on "columbinus" prepared for the task by watching documentaries on the tragedy, as well as the survivor interviews and news coverage that followed.

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