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‘The Rack’ explores school violence, onstage

Contemporary Youth Art Company actress Elea Paybins will perform in “The Rack,” a play about school violence that opens tonight.
Katie Shaver, left, and Janna Bailey rehearse for the Contemporary Youth Art Company’s new play “The Rack.” It opens tonight at the Capitol Center Theater on Summers St.

WHAT: “The Rack” by the Contemporary Youth Arts Company

WHEN: April 3, 4, 10, 11 and 12 at 8 p.m.

WHERE: Capitol Center Theater, 123 Summers St.

INFO: Tickets are available at the door, $8 for students and $15 for adults. Call 304-342-6522 for more information or advanced reservations.

A mentally disturbed boy walks into a school and opens fire, leaving a community grieving and wondering ‘why?’

It’s an all-too-familiar story that has played out again and again on television on our front pages, television screens and Facebook feeds. But tonight, local playwright and director Dan Kehde brings it to the stage.

The Contemporary Youth Arts Company debuts its new play “The Rack” tonight at 8 p.m. at the Capitol Center Theater on Summers St.

The story begins the day after the shooting.

The victims’ bodies are still inside the school, although the audience never sees them. The shooter never makes an appearance, either, except as a sheet-covered body in the county morgue.

The audience gets clues about why he committed the murders but the motive is never fully explained.

Characters remember the shooter as a normal kid who just became more and more detached. There are flashes of violence -- he once used cherry bombs to kill fish in a pond -- but nothing too major. Nothing criminal.

“There’s nothing that absolutely tips this kid over the scale,” Kehde said.

Without a motive, characters blame themselves for the shootings. What could they have done differently? What signs did they miss? When they fail to find an explanation, they begin to blame others.

Kehde said he wrote the play not to justify the shooter, but to try and understand how someone could commit such a heinous act.

He began researching school shootings, from the Bath School disaster of 1927 and the 1966 sniper shootings at University of Texas to Columbine High School in 1999 and the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007.

He found a common thread that tied each of the murders together.

“There were symptoms all the way along, when you look back at it. None of the shooters in any of these episodes were normal. If you do this, you’re not normal,” he said.

But even though the perpetrators were severely disturbed, few attracted attention from law enforcement until it was too late.

“I deal with strange kids all the time. The question is, do we do anything about it? What do we do?” he said. “That’s the question this play explores.”

No matter how disturbed the individual, can society prevent violence if the would-be perpetrators haven’t broken any laws yet?

Don’t expect “The Rack” to deliver an answer.

“There isn’t an answer,” Kehde said.

Instead, there are more questions.

Kehde said “The Rack” will be a difficult play for audiences, but has also been emotionally taxing for the actors. After the first audition, he encouraged his 14-member cast to go home and read through the script to see if they wanted to drop out, no questions asked.

“They all wanted to do it,” he said.

School violence is a difficult subject, he said, one that nobody really understands.

But in Kehde’s mind, that’s what theater is for, to ask questions even when there aren’t easy answers. Especially when there aren’t easy answers.

“The Rack” opens at 8 p.m. today at the Capitol Center Theater on Summers St. with repeat performances on April 4, 10, 11 and 12. Tickets are $8 for students and $15 for adults and are available at the door before each evening’s performance.

Call the Capitol Center Theater’s box office at 304-342-6522 for more information or advanced reservations.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-4830 or Follow him on Twitter at

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