‘Columbinus’ raises difficult issues

“Columbinus,” an in-your-face production about the 1999 Columbine shootings, has sparked a controversy for many school theater departments across the nation. Despite its challenging and controversial content, the St. Ambrose theatre department decided that performing it was a must.
“Columbinus” gives its audience a behind the scenes look at the Columbine High School shootings, providing them with a real 911 call from the event and a look into the lives of the killers themselves.
It is often hard to judge how an audience will react to a production as intense as “Columbinus.” Violence, foul language, and death are often controversial topics, not favored by many. However, Assistant Professor of Theater at St. Ambrose and Director of “Columbinus,” Daniel Raridin-Hale, was not looking to provide the audience with a nightmare. Instead, he hoped to provide them with a look at reality and an important message.
“I thought the overall message of the play was important enough that the Ambrose community would look past the language and the violence,” Raridin-Hale said.
Judging from ticket sales, Raridin-Hale got the positive reaction he was hoping for. All three shows for Columbinus were sold out, proving that the show was a success.
“I think it’s great that the theater department chose to do “Columbinus,”” St. Ambrose student Ashley Urra said. “I got my tickets right away because I knew they were going to go fast.”
Unlike many other productions, “Columbinus” was not intended to provide the audience with entertainment or an escape from the reality of life. Instead it was intended to raise social awareness.
“This type of theatre challenges our way of thinking, it encourages new thought, and allows us to explore themes and topics that we might not otherwise get to explore in a commercial setting,” Raridin-Hale said.
“There is a spectrum in theater of what a play is trying to do and this play is trying to challenge the audience’s perceptions.”
It has been nearly 11 years since the Columbine shootings and within that 11-year time gap, school shootings have become more and more frequent. Raridin-Hale points out that there have been over 60 school shootings since Columbine.
“Something is still broken in our society and needs to be fixed,” Raridin-Hale said. “My hope was that audience members would be reminded of that and encouraged to discuss that.”
“Columbinus” was not intended to provide the audience with an answer to why things like school shootings happen. Instead, Raridin-Hale’s hope was that the play would spark a discussion about the way society is and why school shootings are becoming more frequent.
“I’ve heard a lot of positive comments and even the comments that aren’t positive tell me that people are still thinking about it and discussion is still happening,” Raridin-Hale said.
Because “Columbinus” is very emotional and raises a lot of difficult issues, directing it did not come easy. The serious tone of the play hit home for some of the actors, making rehearsals difficult at times. The cast of “Columbinus” was encouraged to visit the St. Ambrose Counseling Center.
“I see the struggle that some of our actors have with the subject matter and it’s a very difficult thing to explore night after night in rehearsals, Raridin-Hale said. “I really felt for them.”
While many schools are against the production of “Columbinus” because of its controversial content, the St. Ambrose community has shown nothing but support.
“I’d like to thank the Ambrose community for being supportive of this kind of work,” Raridin-Hale said. “I know it’s challenging and sometimes difficult to watch, but I do think it is important work and I’m thankful that the Ambrose community has been so open to it.”

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