By Melissa Arnold
In the world of high school theater, it’s pretty common to see a troupe of eager teens take the stage to perform a lighthearted comedy or timeless musical. David Kramer knows that, and he’s certainly enjoyed directing shows in those genres many times before. But in the past several years, the director of Mount Sinai High School’s theater program has moved to exploring deeper topics for the benefit of both actors and audiences.
Kramer has devoted more than 40 years to arts education. He taught music in the Miller Place School District for 39 years and was also involved with the after-school theater program. In 2014, he was hired to direct both the annual drama and musical for Mount Sinai High School. The opportunity has enabled him and his students to be able to bring plays that “hope to spark conversations of timely, mature social issues” to the community, including “The Laramie Project,” “And Then They Came for Me,” “Twelve Angry Jurors” and “Our Town.”
On Nov. 13 and 17, Mount Sinai High School will present “26 Pebbles,” a poignant and timely one-act drama about how the citizens of Newtown, Connecticut, grieve and attempt to recover in the wake of the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre of 20 children and 6 adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
This show builds upon Mount Sinai’s growing reputation for tackling difficult topics and societal issues through its drama program.
“I always thought there should be high-quality shows that expose young adults to different aspects of the human condition as well as theater skills,” Kramer said. “I’m not looking to crush them. I’m looking to help them develop a sensitivity to what’s going on in society. My goal is to use theater to encourage change.”
Kramer selected “26 Pebbles” for its focus on current events, including gun violence and the ensuing debate about safety in schools. Several school districts on Long Island now employ armed guards, so Kramer found the show relevant to local audiences. He was also touched by the story of a former student whose child attended Sandy Hook Elementary School at the time of the shooting.
While some of the auditioning students admitted that they initially weren’t excited over Kramer’s selection, he said they all agreed it was an important story that needed telling. During auditions, Kramer showed students a trailer of the show and asked them to read from portions of the script. The result is a cast that connects deeply to the show’s message and is passionate about sharing it with audiences.
Playwright Eric Ulloa spent months in Newtown conducting dozens of interviews for “26 Pebbles,” which uses a docudrama format to tell the story of Sandy Hook through a variety of perspectives. While the original script calls for each actor to play multiple characters, Kramer chose to expand the cast by assigning individual roles. The stories of parents, teachers, first responders, clergy and community members are all represented by a cast of 24 students in grades 9 through 12. The set for the show is deliberately sparse and unfinished, conveying that both the national conversation on gun violence and Newtown’s recovery are ongoing.
Kramer is extremely proud of his students and their dedication to telling the story of Sandy Hook with respect, honesty and powerful emotion. To prepare for the show, Kramer asked the cast to write mock sympathy notes to families who lost loved ones in the shooting, allowing them to connect and empathize with the people they portray.
“The souls of [the people of Newtown] are embedded in these students for the hour and a half they’re on that stage … they have shown incredible realism and growth. I think whoever comes to this show will be incredibly taken by it.”
Mount Sinai High School, located at 110 N. Country Road, Mount Sinai, will present “26 Pebbles” at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 and 17. Tickets are $10 at the door. Runtime is approximately 90 minutes. There is no violence in the show, but it is recommended for mature audiences only. For information, call 631-870-2800 or 631-870-2882.