It was both an honor and a pleasure to produce the world premiere of 26 Pebbles by Eric Ulloa at The Human Race Theatre Company in February 2017, in Dayton, Ohio. Having worked with Eric on previous projects, when he asked me to read this play, of course, I agreed. Reading the play was one of those life-changing experiences. The power and emotion that poured forth from these everyday people of Newtown was just overwhelming. It was incredibly sad, yes, but also uplifting and hopeful. Of course, we had just experienced the horrible tragedy of San Bernardino – soon to be followed by many more tragedies, including Orlando and now, Las Vegas.
What Eric has been able to capture in 26 Pebbles is the strength of a community determined to fight back and not let themselves be remembered for just this terrible tragic moment. By standing in the face of this adversity, they take command of their own story and keep it from being just another footnote in a long list of “deadliest shootings.”
Eric wisely determined this story should not come from the victims and family of this horrific act, but from the people of the community just outside of that inner circle – but still touched by it. Like the outer ripples as you drop pebbles into a lake, this image became the overarching theme of 26 Pebbles. And that act of dropping pebbles into the water sent concentric circles ever reaching out into the world, eventually touching us all.
Early on, I had to convince subscribers that we were not re-enacting the actual shooting. “Do you have children in the cast?” became a question that I answered numerous times. I tried to reassure them the show was a message of hope and no matter what Eric’s personal view may be about guns in America, that belief did not color the story of the community, what they experienced and what brought them together so tightly.
And there is humor in the script, some of it from meeting these real people and the simple heroic spirit they demonstrated, but also the situations in which they found themselves. For example, the young volunteer who became responsible for documenting and storing thousands of stuffed teddy bears that well-intended peoples sent to the town as their act of helping the children. Rooms filled to the brim with teddy bears. Or the mother who decided to paint a sign that said I AM LOVE I AM NEWTOWN and stood by the highway so people coming in and out of their town would know this tragedy did not define who they were. Who they are.
Director Igor Goldin masterfully guided our cast of six local artists to tell this story, honestly, every night through laughter and tears. As each of them became multiple characters through simple changes in voice, posture or costume adjustment, they took the audience on this transformative journey of the people of Newtown. The standing ovation every evening was so well deserved. I was never prouder of the power of live theatre.
Unfortunately, I do not think that Las Vegas will be the last of these life-changing events. It can happen anywhere – in any community. I believe if every theatre took a chance and produced 26 Pebbles, we would encourage a much better prepared, stronger, and accepting public. And just maybe, it would inspire leaders in us all to find a way to make this dreadful footnote disappear.