Drama club at Chatham University puts on play to bring up the topic of gun violence in the United States


By Irina Bucur

When an indescribable tragedy is set off, what happens after? When the headlines and mass news footage begin to dwindle, when the rest of the world moves on, can a community move on with it? It’s this idea of rebuilding past the aftermath that the Chatham Drama Club explored in their fall production of 26 Pebbles.

The play is a retelling of the before and after of the small town shaken by the Sandy Hook massacre, after 20 children and six staff members were gunned down at the elementary school that has since become the namesake for this horrific event.

Members of Moms Demand Action were sitting at the front of Eddy theater when spectators came in. A Chatham counselor stood in the back. Audience members were encouraged to grab a marker and write their names down on name tags.

“To help build community,” theater member Landon Dawson ’22 explained.

As soon as the story began to unfold on stage, the name tags made sense. The setting, a town hall meeting, opened up the personal histories, dreams and concerns of the townspeople to the audience. At one point, an audience member was called out by name. The rest of us listened, transfixed, as Eddy Theater became Newtown township.

One can’t help but to draw the parallels between Newtown and Tree of Life. The play is sobering as we remember the shooting that happened a year ago, just a couple of minutes from campus. Lauryn Laidacker ’22, who played town leader Carol, said the connection to Tree of Life was one of the reasons it was chosen, as well as to commemorate the anniversary of the lives lost. Discussing a tragedy like this one through a theatrical production is impactful because the audience is better able to connect with the story Laidacker said.

“It makes it more real than just reading it and watching news coverage. You become less desensitized to it, to be able to connect with what’s happening in front of you,” she said.

The play is a stark contrast to previous Chatham productions, which mainly span across comedies. When director Maria Shoop approached the club with the script, members welcomed this solemn change in genre, actress Zoe Levine ’21 said. Created by playwright Eric Ulloa, the script contained the compilations of real words and interviews from Newtown residents. Sharing their stories was overwhelming, Laidacker explained, but rewarding in its own right.

“We have to make sure we’re doing them justice,” she said.

“Connecting with it, and the emotions that are there with it, was difficult for me,” Levine said about her own experience in rehearsal.

She hopes that after this performance, the audience understands that there are many views surrounding the issue of gun violence, and that people should remain open minded.

“We should keep talking about this. If we go silent on it, it will continue to happen,” she said.

26 Pebbles is all at once a timely reminder of gun violence, media coverage, community healing and a message of shared humanity. Wrapped in the different-and sometimes-clashing voices of Newtown residents, it is a continuation of a nationwide conversation, as well as one close to the heart of the Chatham community.