The Warriors: An Interview With Writer and Director Evan Linder
By Lauren Glass, '13
ArtStreet will be presenting the play ‘The Warriors’ this week as a part of the exhibit ‘Bullet: Who Pulls the Trigger?’ on display at ArtStreet currently. The performance will feature the talent of University of Dayton student actors and is being joint directed by ArtStreet Director Brian LaDuca and the writer of the play and New Colony actor Evan Linder.
Written by Evan Linder and conceived by Mary Hollis Inboden, ‘The Warriors’ highlights the lives of six individuals fifteen years after surviving a fatal school shooting as children. Based on the personal experience of Mary Hollis Inboden and thirty other survivors of the 1998 shooting that occurred at a school in Jonesboro, Arkansas, the play touches on a universal theme of hope after tragedy and overcoming grief.
The upcoming performance of ‘The Warriors’ at ArtStreet will be the second time this play has been performed since its conception. The play premiered in Chicago in 2011, and staged readings have taken place since in Chicago and Memphis.
Interested in learning more about ‘The Warriors,’ I sat down for an interview with Evan Linder in order to discuss the origins of the play and his experience working with it from its inception until now:
What is this play about?
The play is about survivors of something terrible in their childhood, and what kind of adults they grew up to be. It’s about the need for community with fellow survivors, and trying to make other people understand what it’s like to still live with it as an adult.
Why did you write this play?
I started writing this play because Mary Hollis and I wanted to collaborate together, and we threw around a bunch of ideas one night. It wasn’t until the end of the night when she said, ‘I think I might want to do something about Jonesboro.’
At that time she had been in Chicago for about three years, and I was one of the two other people in Chicago who actually knew what that meant, because she was not one to share this story before we made this play. She always felt that people would look at her differently. She always thought that she would get pity from people that she didn’t want pity from, and she thought that it would make it more of a part of her life than she ever wanted it to be. I think this show was also her way of coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t go away, and it never goes away, and she’s a school shooting survivor, and just being able to say that.
How did the idea for this play come about?
The show really sprang out of Mary Hollis having an interview in 2007 with NPR right after the Virginia Tech shooting happened. At the end of that interview they asked, ‘Do you have any words of comfort or wisdom or anything for these kids?’ and Mary Hollis said, ‘Well first of all nothing I could say could comfort them right now, but they should definitely stay close with the people who shared this experience with them, because nobody else will ever understand this experience the way they will.’
And in that way Mary Hollis realized that she’s a huge hypocrite. She actually hadn’t done that at all with anybody who she had had this experience with, and that was really kind of the impotence for the direction of our show. It was really her reaching out to everybody and saying, ‘I want to make something creative with this story. I hope that you’ll contribute and tell me what your lives are like, here’s mine right now.’
The responses we got back were so positive, amazing, and full of great stories that, as long as this epidemic continues and other people who are going through it can hear the stories of other people who have gone through it as well, I think are really helpful.
When Mary Hollis and I were batting around ideas for the show, I said to her, ‘The last thing in the world I would ever want to go see, is a show about a school shooting,’ I said, just right off the bat, ‘The last thing I need to see is a dramatic reenactment of a tragedy that any facts about I could read online in the news.’ So what I loved about this show and being able to write it, was that it is about the people. It was about who these people are 15 years later, for better or for worse. None of them are perfect, or have had perfect lives, or anything like that, but they have all found ways to personally deal with their grief.
I think that’s actually the story that can be helpful when something terrible happens. When something like that happens, and it seems there’s no way I will get through this, there’s no way I will ever get over this grief, there is no way I will ever be ok again--to know that there’s a whole group of people out there that says, ‘you’ll never get over this grief, you’ll never be ok again, but you’ll be ok,’ is ultimately, I think, a great story.
How has the play reached out to other survivors of this and other tragedies?
We did the show in Chicago in 2011, and we interviewed almost 30 survivors of the Jonesboro shooting in the year leading up to the premier of that show. So much of the characters in the show are actually composites of the stories from those survivors. Four of them actually made the trip up to Chicago from Arkansas to see the show, which was really lovely of them. And we did a reading of it this past February in Memphis and many of them came to that performance, because it was very close to home.
And there’s something that one of the characters lands on really beautifully in the show. Mary Hollis is the character in our show who reaches out to everybody, and she sees everybody who stayed in Jonesboro as all being okay, having moved on with their lives, and being married, and having kids. She feels that because she ran away, she didn’t get the same healing process that everybody else did. What one of those characters who did stay in Jonesboro tells her is ‘No, we’ve just accepted that it never goes away. And it’s not something we’re trying to leave behind.’
Why is humor used in the show?
There is a lot of humor in the script, which some people say is surprising humor. I don’t think it’s that surprising at all, I just think that it’s a life humor. I think that life is inherently very, very sad, and very, very funny. Even doing a show with this subject matter, we are also looking at the survivors fifteen years later, and for a lot of them, their sort of defense mechanism is humor. Many of them use humor to deflect. Many of them use humor to stand out and continue to do so.
Mary Hollis who created this, she’s genuinely one of the funniest actresses I have ever seen on stage. I mean, she can play a lot of things, but she just has comic timing unlike anybody I’ve ever seen before. She very much will say her need to be funny—even though she always had the performing bug from when she was very little—but that need to be funny came from this happening to her. Then it felt wrong to make a show and not have her be her normal funny self in the show, because there are a lot of situations, like seeing people again you haven’t seen in twelve years, and having expectations of people that are either met or completely subverted, that have a lot of humor in them.
Have you encountered any negative reactions to the play?
I know that there are people who wish that the show was more political and took more of a political stance, but that was also something we knew when we created the show, and it was a very conscious choice not to make an explicit statement. For this material speaking about how strongly these characters have rebounded to become these great adults who were coping, it seemed almost disrespectful to their stories for our show to try and use those stories to make a political statement at the same time.
And yeah, I think there is a lot to say about gun violence and gun laws in this country. I certainly have a lot to say personally, but that was not why I wrote this show, and that was not why we wanted to create it. I understand that any time you’re talking about or even around a topic like that, people want you to make a statement. But this is the story that we wanted to tell, and we wanted to stick to that story, and honestly, I think it’s the most interesting story that we could have told.
What do you hope audiences get out of this play?
I hope that somebody coming to see a show about a girl reconnecting with her past and her friends who she lost touch with, and who has a moving reunion with a lot of different kids – I hope that somebody coming to see that story sees that story. I hope that people feel a connection to how these characters feel, because despite the magnitude of what they went through, it’s still very universal about grief, and owning where you come from, owning what’s happened to you, and just owning what’s happened with your life.
I hope people feel ok to laugh and don’t feel like they’re coming to see this serious show that is meant to be watched in silence. And I hope that people will want to learn more about Jonesboro, and the actual events that took place that day, and where the town is now. I do think that there is an importance of knowing those stories, and I do feel like Jonesboro was overlooked in a lot of ways. We address this in the show too, and many characters have their opinions on why that was. It was 13 months before Columbine, and it was just kind of something about when it happened, coupled with the amount of fatalities, and was it enough to be deemed this—all the kind of gross games that the media plays when they decide what to cover or not.
What have you taken away from this play?
I would say the biggest thing is that it was worth telling, because it was scary. To decide to tell it in the first place, we were very worried that the very things we wanted to write the show as a response against were going to be labels stuck to our show, as in this is just grief put on stage for people to wallow in, this is a piece of therapy theater for this actress in Chicago, for her to get all of her demons out on stage. I mean these were all things we were very concerned about writing the show.
I also think that getting to see the reading in Memphis in February, and to see all those people from Jonesboro come to hear it and being so moved by it, was huge. The first EMT who was on the scene at the playground that day came to see the show. The mother of one of the young girls who died on the playground that day came to see the show. A teacher who was shot on the playground that day and survived, came to see the show. Hearing validation from them that they are so glad that this is out there, and the story is out there and you all are telling it—that was definitely the most moving part of the entire experience. Just hearing, ‘yep that’s what it feels like,’ from the people who would know the most.
‘The Warriors’ will be performed in ArtStreet Studio D on Oct. 29 & 30 at 7:30pm. A post show talk with Mary Hollis Inboden will take place after the show on Oct. 29, and a post show talk with Evan Linder will take place after the show on Oct. 30.
Lauren Glass is a senior at the University of Dayton, where she is studying journalism. Currently working as a social media assistant for ArtStreet, she enjoys music, writing, and photography.