6 years after Sandy Hook, Raleigh students remember tragedy — and earn honors — with play

Sanderson High School theater students remember Sandy Hook victims

Sanderson High School theater students are raising $20,000 to attend a national competition where they'll put on the play "26 Pebbles," which documents the impact the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings had on Newtown, Ct.
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Sanderson High School theater students are raising $20,000 to attend a national competition where they'll put on the play "26 Pebbles," which documents the impact the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings had on Newtown, Ct.

As the nation marks the sixth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting on Friday, theater students at a Raleigh high school are doing their part to spread the message about the impact of school shootings and gun violence.

Vigils are being held across the nation to remember the 20 young children and six adults who were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012. Raleigh’s Sanderson High School students have been remembering the Sandy Hook victims with their award-winning performance of “26 Pebbles,” a play that deals with the impact the shootings had on Newtown.

After winning multiple honors at the North Carolina Theatre Conference’s High School Play Festival in November, Sanderson is now one of only two North Carolina schools who’ve been invited to an upcoming national competition.

Sanderson High students are trying to raise $20,000 to attend the Southeastern Theatre Conference High School Play Festival in Knoxville, Tenn., on Feb. 28-March 1.

Students in the Sanderson High School Theatre Ensemble perform “26 Pebbles” at the at N.C. Theatre Conference on Nov. 3rd at Weaver Academy in Greensboro, N.C. Kate Wisz

“It’s a really intense show, as one can image,” said Allison Moreau, 16, a junior and a member of Sanderson’s Advanced Theatre Ensemble, which puts on the play. “It’s a really heavy topic, but we can all relate to the message of love and not letting this one tragedy define anyone.”

Playwright Eric Ulloa traveled to Newtown six months after the shooting and interviewed members of the community. It resulted in a play that in the past few years has been performed by different school groups around the nation.

But it was a different school shooting that inspired Sanderson to put on “26 Pebbles.” The February mass school shooting at Parkland, Fla., that led to 17 deaths sparked students nationwide, including at Sanderson, to talk about gun violence.

Sanderson High School junior Greear Webb, fellow students and their supporters hold a rally to promote a town hall meeting about gun violence that will take place at their school next week.

At Sanderson, students organized walkouts and a town hall on school safety in May that brought together a panel of elected officials, students, law enforcement and mental-health professionals.

It wasn’t lost on Peter Comperatore, Sanderson’s theatre director, that several of his students were involved in the town hall.

“They (theater students) felt passionate about students having a voice in stopping these shootings,” said Amy Moreau, Allison’s mother and the play’s parent coordinator. “The director was really moved by that. He tried to pick a play that would help move the conversation on this.”

Since the Parkland shooting, schools across the country have dealt with an increase in hoax school threats and lockdowns. Allison Moreau said students were motivated even more to do the play after Sanderson was put on a code red lockdown while they were doing a rehearsal.

A school lockdown is a precautionary measure issued in response to a direct or nearby threat. It requires staff and students to respond quickly and comply with rules. Here’s how it often works.

“When you’re in the show, something we’ve all learned from it is school shootings don’t just impact the people at the school,” Allison Moreau said. “It impacts the entire community.

“It rattles that sense of safety, which is really scary. We’ve all learned to extend the love and share the compassion.”

Sanderson is the only Wake County school to be invited to the Southeastern Theatre Conference High School Play Festival since they started keeping records 20 years ago, according to Comperatore.

Sanderson was last at the event in 2016 with “The Yellow Boat,” a drama about AIDS.

Want to help?

Go to https://bit.ly/2CcKJGt to donate money for the trip. You can also buy tickets online at https://search.seatyourself.biz/webstore/accounts/shstheatreensemble/buy-tix?d=0 for the encore performance of “26 Pebbles” and silent auction on Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. in the Sanderson High School auditorium. More information is available at http://shstheatreensemble.weebly.com/setc--26-pebbles.html.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.