Skip to main content Skip to footer

April 9, 2024

SVSU to present show on mental health and gun violence

Poster depicting person sitting on floor with shadow

The Saginaw Valley State University theatre department will be taking on hard subjects like mental health, bullying and gun violence with the upcoming performance of “columbinus.”

The show, written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli, is based on the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Weaving together excerpts from discussions with survivors and community members, along with police evidence, the play shines a light on American adolescence. Due to the nature of the play, it is recommended for ages 16+.

For director Peggy Mead-Finizio, SVSU associate professor of theatre, the sensitive topic and real-life history of the play pose a special challenge for the production.

“The topics involved make it a challenging story to tell,” Mead-Finizio said. “Because the event actually happened and is not a fiction storyline, there is an obligation to be consistent and caring with the way it is done.”

For the cast and crew, “columbinus” is a tough but rewarding opportunity.

“Every show has its challenges,” said Paige Tuckerman, a theatre major from Dewitt playing Rebel. “Portraying characters going through such intense mental health struggles is taxing. You want to make sure you’re portraying realism of stage while also trying to protect yourself from those big and scary feelings.”

Despite the heavy content matter, the cast and crew of “columbinus” are provided the space to experience all the emotions that come along with a show about mental health and gun violence.

“We have access to many mental health professionals who have been coming into our rehearsal space from time to time, just to be there in case someone needs them,” said Tuckerman.

For the students involved in the production, “columbinus” is more than just another show. Mead-Finizio has created a companion project that provides high school students in Saginaw and Bay counties an opportunity to explore the play’s themes through workshops and focus groups prior to the play’s performances.

Through “columbinus: The Production and Beyond the Stage,” Mead-Finizio has been leading SVSU students through the process of creating a curriculum, content and testing tools needed for the high school workshops and focus groups. Throughout the project, the SVSU Mental Health and Wellness Center has provided resources and training to support the needs of all participants.

Mead-Finizio received a $5,000 grant from the Community Initiative Fund at the Bay Area Community Foundation to support these outreach efforts in Bay County.

A play like “columbinus” is certain to put some people on edge. Mead-Finizio readily acknowledges this, but she stresses the need to tell difficult stories.

“At first glance, the title would probably scare people off from viewing the play,” she said. “My hope is that they will trust the SVSU Department of Theatre to tell an important story in a meaningful way that does not glorify the perpetrators or point fingers and blame. It is an important story to tell.”

“columbinus” will run from Wednesday, April 10, through Saturday, April 13, at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, April 14, at 3:00 p.m. in the Malcolm Field Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online anytime or at the SVSU box office one hour before show time.