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Dealing on stage with the ‘so real’ trauma of school shootings

Jacques Lamarre (YJI)

BOSTON – Trigger Warning is an anomaly in Jacques Lamarre’s vivid repertoire of comedies (I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, Born Fat and others) but the playwright’s penchant for drama is still preserved in the world premiere of the play.

“I always knew I wanted to [write the play] from the perspective of the shooter’s family,” said Lamarre, a Connecticut playwright.

Written by Lamarre, directed by David J. Miller and produced by the Zeitgeist Stage Company, Trigger Warning rewrites the mass shooter narrative in an unconventional manner, while keeping true to the authenticity of an American tragedy.

Cast members of “Trigger Warning” on stage after the show. (YJI)

When it came to informing the family’s experience, Lamarre turned to the work of Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the killers in the Columbine High School massacre, and coincidentally, the play premiered in the 20th anniversary year of that mass shooting.

Many of the themes Lamarre touches upon in Trigger Warning are inspired by Klebold’s experience in the aftermath, he said. He’d originally asked her if he could adapt her book, A Mother’s Reckoning, into a screenplay, a request she denied. It forced him to be more creative, Lamarre said.

“I think it’s always one of the big questions when a shooting happens … what caused this person to go over the edge?” Lamarre said. “And you assume that the parents, because it’s often times the teenager, early-twenties, white male, and they always say, ‘We never thought it could have happened in this town,’ and the other things is, ‘Who could have raised this type of child.’”

Lamarre said he often derived inspiration from his own surroundings, including a true crime case close to his hometown in New Hampshire and a shooting at the Connecticut lottery office.

“It’s something that’s been in the periphery of my life,” Lamarre said.

Lamarre also said he is a vocal advocate for gun control outside of his plays, and said that even though the play is based on the topic mass shootings, he didn’t want to make it inherently political. He said that instead, he wanted to demonstrate the dynamic of the shooter’s family and “how they were impacted by [the shooting].”

Rehearsing the dynamic of the family, was sometimes difficult, according to Trigger Warning’s actors.

“We are constantly laughing and joking and trying to make things light so as not to have [the play] be a super heavy, dark space all the time,” said Naeemah A. White-Peppers who played FBI Agent Pelletier and Reverend Tracy.

White-Peppers said the cast “[made] the choice not to be traumatized” by the play’s content.

Steve Auger, who plays Murph, said he had to research and “channel” people in popular culture similar to his character in order to realistically portray the gun-loving father.

“Murph was not someone I wanted to take home,” Auger said.

Trigger Warning is a warning for America’s future — and the last show in Zeitgeist Stage Company’s final season. The company will stop producing plays after its 18-year run.

“I didn’t write it thinking I want to make people cry,” Lamarre said. But it was an important message to convey. Lamarre said he wanted the audience to take in the dynamic of the shooter’s family, and through the narrative, send a message for future generations.

Lamarre also noted that while he regarded mass shootings at educational institutions a relatively modern norm in America, current youth were raised in close encounters with the phenomena and that they have been a “part of the fabric of our lives.”

Lilly Brenneman, a senior at Wellesley High School and a student actor who plays Meghan in the show, said she remembered partaking in shooter lockdowns as a young child. Brenneman said she refrained from injecting the nature of the play to other parts of her life.

“I just have to look at it like ‘oh yeah, this isn’t real,’ when really it is. It is so real,” Brenneman said.

Trigger Warning will be playing at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Black Box Theatre until Sunday, May 4th.  Tickets are available at

Yunkyo Kim is a Reporter and Mugdha Gurram is a Senior Correspondent with Youth Journalism International. Their review of the show can be found here.

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