Temple student actor performs in play about school shooting

Danielle Coates character in a Philadelphia Young Playwrights performance explores coping with life after a school shooting

(Left) Actor Yannick Haynes, sophomore theater major Danielle Coates and actor Tyler Elliott rehearse for Candles, a Philadelphia Young Playwrights production. | JANA WILLIAMS PHOTOGRAPHY / COURTESY

The February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida inspired Danielle Coates to act in “Candles,” a play about the aftermath of a school shooting, from Jan. 16 to 25.

A play by the Philadelphia Young Playwrights, “Candles” is set in the fictional Edgewater High School and explores the students’ journey as they try to process the traumatic event. Marisa Gittelman, a 2019 theater alumna, stage-managed the performances. 

“It’s something other people have lived through and it’s something that I can relate to,” Coates, a sophomore theater major, said. She played Rose, one of the students directly impacted by the shooting.

After the shooting, Rose and her classmates navigate their grief through poetry, music, and humor, while taking on an exploitative national TV reporter and the school district’s threats to defund their newspaper club. Impassioned monologues from each main character in the play illustrate a wide range of coping strategies, like reckoning with survivor’s guilt.

“We don’t see the characters wallowing in their sadness; instead, we see them actively fighting to get back to what the happiness was,” Gittelman said. “Young people don’t tend to have a voice, even when they’re the subject of the conflict.” 

Angelina DeMonte, a sophomore at Harriton High School in Lower Merion, wrote the play because she was also inspired by the actions of the survivors of the Parkland shooting, she said. 

Auditions began in mid-November and the rehearsal process started on Dec. 16, 2019, which is an incredibly quick turnaround compared to most high school productions, Gittelman said.

“The process was very demanding of all involved but we have a great team that kept pace extremely well,” Gittelman said. “It really felt like it was starting to come together during only our second week of rehearsal.”

PYP partnered with Ceasefire, a local anti-gun violence organization, to produce the play.  Ceasefire focuses not only on ending the gun violence epidemic but also on eliminating violence among youth in Philadelphia.

“We want to help [young people] lift their voices up,” Max Milkman, a Ceasefire representative present at the closing night show, said. 

In its effort to build a safer community, Ceasefire speaks with representatives at all levels of government to pass common-sense gun legislature, notably background checks and bans on automatic weapons, Milkman said. 

“These tragedies like we see in the play, like Parkland and Sandy Hook and Squirrel Hill, are preventable tragedies,” Milkman added. “Whether or not you’re able to vote, you can use your voice.

The play is about “learning how to move on and cope with grief in different ways,” Coates said. “It’s about being able to rely on your friends and also on the arts.”

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