Amish Project explores forgiveness


Graphic by Lena Yang
Graphic by Lena Yang

Green Light Art’s latest production The Amish Project is set to have its Canadian premiere at Studio 180 in Hagey Hall at the University of Waterloo on Sept. 25. The story is a fictionalized account of the Nickel Mines School shooting in 2006, where Charles Roberts went into a school and held five girls hostage. Once the police arrived on the scene, he shot and killed them and then himself.

“This is an imagined piece focusing on the two girls who were in the room, the widow, as well as three other characters that have nothing immediately to do with it,” said artistic producer Matt White.

He said what initially peaked his interest in this story was how the theme of forgiveness was intertwined into the script.

“What separated this from other stories about school shootings is the Amish community forgave the killer, and extended the forgiveness to his widow and her family, going as far as donating some of the money and bringing food to her,” he said. “What’s interesting is Jessica Dickey [the playwright] doesn’t focus on the shooting itself — the shooting just happened. But it is the aftermath of the second half of the play that really focuses on the element of forgiveness as a whole.”

White said his involvement originally stemmed from “pragmatic and practical reasons.” After his wife discouraged him from producing an eight-person production, he started looking for other pieces.

“It had just been done in New York. I fell in love with the text. It’s not heightened language, just an emotional honesty and connection to a lot of what humans are searching for,” he said.

“Ultimately, that sense of connecting with one another and not getting past our immediate actions to act aggressively to one another.”

White decided he didn’t want to premiere the show in Toronto because he wanted to showcase it in a smaller community. Waterloo offered the environment he was looking for.

“After looking at the Mennonite and Amish population in the Waterloo region and abroad, it just seemed like the right home for the piece,” he said.
White also knew exactly what he wanted out of the venue.

“Why Hagey Hall? It started out as a pragmatic reason: the space was free and available,” he said.

“It was really important to me to produce it at this time because on Sept. 21 it is the International Day of Peace, but then Oct. 2 it is the eight-year anniversary of the shooting. I really wanted to produce it around those dates.”

On Oct. 3, the Community Justice Initiatives and Conrad Grebel University College at University of Waterloo will be holding post-show panel discussions, with the help of White. The relationship with the university also helped him reach out to students.

“Looking at the relationship with the student population at Conrad Gabel specifically, this makes it even easier for students [from the college] to come check it out. It was great because with the forgiveness talks on Oct. 3 and 4, UW then waived the rental fee to become an in-association partner. They have been really supportive of us, and the team has been so supportive of us.”

The performance runs until Oct. 5. Though the material in the play might be highly emotional, White hopes people can see past that.

.“You can get carried away with the story and the characters, because I realize people might think this is a heavy situation, but it is really important to remember that these are really seven very different characters that come alive.”

“You can get carried away with the story telling, and you can take nothing away from forgiveness, but hopefully you can take something away.”

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