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I really appreciate Playscripts and their work toward creating better theater and theater experiences for all. Jay Muldoon Theater Teacher, Fairfield, OH
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We chat with Nicholas C. Pappas about his new play, ‘Including Shooter’

Told through a series of interweaving scenes and monologues, Including Shooter explores the context of a fictional shooting in three parts. We talked with the playwright, Nicholas C. Pappas, about the inspiration behind the play, the theater that excites him, and his advice for aspiring writers.


IncludingShooterQ: What was the inspiration behind Including Shooter?

A: At a certain point, I started feeling like I couldn’t turn on a television without hearing about a mass spree shooting somewhere in the world. Often it was in the U.S. and often it was at a school. What I became obsessed with was how the media fetishized the killers and, even worse, reduced their complex lives down to a couple of sound bites. I also came of age in the era where violence was often blamed on the influence of TV, video games, movies, and music. I took that accusation personally—I was a kid who played video games, watched violent movies and TV shows, and listened to rock and rap music (I still do all these things), but was (and am) a complete pacifist. These things didn’t made me violent, and I was hypersensitive to any assertion that they could. I think watching this same kind of logic being used all over again in regards to the cause of violence behind all the shootings going on at the time caused a knee-jerk reaction in my brain. It really got me focused on examining reductive thinking and how dangerous it can be when trying to “solve” the epidemic of school shootings.

Kids (and adults) that find answers in harming others aren’t the product of the entertainment industry, they are broken in some fundamental way. But how? Is it the same kind of broken for all the shooters, or did it differ?

When I started obsessing about these ideas, I knew it was time to start writing. At the start, I had this grand idea that act one would take place in a classroom and the students would experience the terror of hearing a school shooter approaching in real time. In the second act, I naively thought I’d figure out how to stop future school shootings by putting several real life shooters in a therapy session and letting them talk it out. I could never get either to work because neither ever felt honest. It always felt manufactured. I think you can see the germ of these impulses when reading the play. I always felt like I owed any reader, any potential victim, and any potential shooter respect. And I hoped that maybe, just maybe, the play could help a troubled person (of any kind, not just a person with violent impulses) feel safe and empowered in looking for help.

Q: How did you approach the challenge of writing about such sensitive subject matter?

A: I wanted to be as truthful as possible. I knew if I was truthful, I couldn’t go wrong. To find truth, I had to dive into research. I read as much as I could find, mostly things from first responders and survivors, but I also read manifestos. I looked for pictures and found images that I wish I could forget. I had to find truth in all sides, or else I knew the play would be a failure.

Q: Including Shooter puts an emphasis on the atmospheric, the action is flowing rather than literal, and sound design plays an important role. What drew you to this aesthetic?

I’ve always enjoyed nontraditional structure in my own writing. I think it keeps the audience on their toes, which forces an audience to think differently. And when people start to think differently, when their concept of normal is challenged, their minds automatically begin to engage and open up to what they are watching. This makes them an active participant, not a passive one. An engaged, active audience member is one that’ll react viscerally. If I can get them to react viscerally, they might be moved to some kind of action. Their action is what I crave as a writer.

Q: What type of theater excites you?

A: I can be excited by nearly any kind of theater. I love watching stuff that is innovative, but I can also really get behind an old work that is relaunched. I particularly love theater that says something important about the world, but I think lighter fare is vital as a counterbalance. I tend to see more non-musicals, but musicals make me cry hardest. Some of my favorite playwrights are people like Simon Stephens, Sheila Callaghan, Sarah Ruhl, Tarell Alvin McCraney, and Qui Nguyen. Recently I’ve been floored by the plays Vietgone, The Nether, Harper Reagan, and The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. Favorite musicals include Passing Strange, Caroline or Change, and Once.

I really admire theater with a strong point of view. By this, I mean each production element of a particular piece must be working together to create a cohesive whole. Things can’t be slapped together all willy-nilly. I always see it as a missed opportunity when costume design doesn’t support acting choices, or when those acting choices don’t support the lighting design, and that lighting design doesn’t support the script. All of these things working separately creates an uneven and confusing production.

In some ways, it might be easier to talk about the kind of theater that doesn’t excite me. The most egregious thing is a lack of effort. I really have a difficult time watching people “phone it in.” It kills me.

Q: How did you first get involved in theater?

A: I think I followed the most traveled path: being an actor. In junior high I had a choice to take a drama class or join band. My 13-year-old brain decided I’d rather be a “drama nerd” than a “band geek” (I apologize to all band kids on behalf of my 13-year-old brain). I instantly fell in love. I actually pursued acting all the way through college. One of my BAs is in acting. I had an agent and did a few commercials. Then came that fateful day when I excitedly answered “yes” when a casting director asked if I “was willing to run on a treadmill in my underwear while getting slapped by a fish and/or a pickle.” After some soul searching on why I said “yes” with such gusto, I decided to focus on writing.

Q: Any advice for aspiring writers?

A: Four bits, actually:

  1. In this business, all you have is your reputation, and that started yesterday.
  2. You can’t be a writer if you don’t put in the work and actually write. You’ve got to treat it like a 9-to-5 job (something I still struggle with at times).
  3. It’s a war of attrition. Some of the most talented writers I have ever met gave up writing because it wasn’t easy to gain traction. You need to keep fighting the fight, because if you give up, your dream is over.
  4. Always challenge the expectation of what success is. People will try to define success for you as writing a multi-million dollar movie or winning an award, but you have to know that success can also simply mean making a living as a writer. And sometimes success is when a kid you’ve never met sends you an email telling you how much your play means to them. Celebrate all the victories by sitting at the computer and writing more. Celebrate all the losses by getting up and trying again. Set attainable goals, reach them, and then set more. Make your own definition of success and fight for it.

 

Nicholas C. Pappas is a director, playwright, and dramaturge. His plays include The Ballad of 423 and 424 (Heideman Award; Actors Theatre of Louisville), Fatty (Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor), Including Shooter (called “best play of the season” by critic Peter Filichia), and The Dreams in Which I’m Dying (Deb Aquila reading series with the American Theater Group). He has been published by Dramatics Magazine and Playscripts. Nicholas has done dramaturgical work at The Center Theatre Group, San Francisco Playhouse, Berkeley Rep, South Coast Rep, TheatreFolk, and for several college programs. He has directed for San Francisco Playhouse, Moorpark College, San Francisco State University, and others. A graduate of San Francisco State University’s MFA program, he teaches at Moorpark College and is currently in development on several television and film projects. Keep up to date at nicholascpappas.com.

 

 

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