High school and college shootings have become a fairly frequent occurrence in the United States over the past few years. As we’re most commonly exposed to the perspective of the community and the victims of the shooting, we rarely consider the hell that the shooter’s family, friends and school administration face as a result.
Members of the UNCG Theatre Department will present “From Up Here,” written by Liz Flahive and directed by John Gulley. Gulley is a professor in the theatre department at UNCG as well as the coordinator of the Master of Fine Arts program. His career as a director began at the age of 18 at Wake Forest University. Since then, he has earned a master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin and professionally directed a number plays in New York City, New Jersey, North Carolina and over 30 for the Asolo Repertory Theatre Company in Sarasota, Florida. The play will feature three graduate and five undergraduate students from the theatre program.
“From Up Here” is a story about a dysfunctional and loving American family and the lengths that they must go to in order to deal with the many uncomfortable situations they’ve been presented with as a result of one family member’s actions. Kenny Barrett, a high school teen, has made a vague threat to a few of his classmates, and as one would expect, it isn’t taken lightly by his school administrators or local government officials. Kenny is suspended, forced to publicly apologize to his entire school — when he’d prefer to just disappear — and for the rest of the year he is required to carry around a list of the contents of his backpack. Although the play is largely about Kenny and the way the ramifications of his actions affect him as a troubled teenager, it also gives viewers the opportunity to see how these situations affect everyone — victims, the family of the “shooter” and high school administration included — and possibly form new opinions based on that alternate perspective.
“It’s a beautiful, very subtle, understated — very funny and poignant at times, examination of how a typical, dysfunctional, loving family deals with a situation like this,” Gulley explains.
“From Up Here” begins on Kenny Barrett’s first day back at school after his suspension. The play is 15 scenes long, which is a little less than two hours. In that time, the setting moves from the Barrett household to the guidance counselor’s office to school hallways and a school dance, and we are allowed to witness the way each character transforms as they move through their daily lives.
“Her writing is so beautiful,” Gulley said of Liz Flahive. “She’s able to create fully dimensional characters with just a few strokes. No character is a stereotype. They’re all fully realized. And to be able to do that in less than two hours is truly amazing.”
The relatability of this production makes it ideal for college students.
“I’m absolutely certain that the target audience is students at UNCG,” says Gulley. “I think every student at UNCG will recognize so much of what’s going on because — unless they’re a 35-year-old grad student at UNCG, they were just in high school. And she [Flahive] paints a really believable picture of high school life.”
The most transformative scenes for viewers will likely be the ones that show how isolation and dehumanization can manifest through the disciplinary measures that troubled students like Kenny Barrett must face, which often just makes their situations — whether they deal with school bullies or familial abuse — worse. “From Up Here” by no means defends school shooters or students who make violent threats against others. It does, however, challenge audiences to remember that everyone is simply “doing their best.” One of the features of this play that John Gulley values most is the fact that it is a brutally honest depiction of high school life, and life in general.
“Theatre is at its best not when it teaches little moral lessons, but when it’s showing us a picture of life,” Gulley said. “And the takeaway lesson here might just be ‘isn’t being a human being an amazing and challenging thing?’ The final message of ‘From Up Here’ is ‘as messy as it is, life is still an amazing, wonderful thing, and it’s worth getting up in the morning and trying to do a little bit better today, even when you know you might get knocked down or knock yourself down.’”
“From Up Here” will premiere on Feb. 25, 2016 in the Brown Building Theater.
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