In December 2012 an armed gunman forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and killed 20 children and six staff.
Nearly 6,000 kilometres away, Whitehorse playwright Doug Rutherford was attempting to come to terms with what he was seeing on the news.
“I thought, ‘Why would somebody do this?”
The Yukon College instructor began to research.
“The more I read the closer my jaw got to the table top. Because school shootings are extremely common and almost never make the national news,” he said.
What he uncovered became the inspiration for his new play And, on the Second Day.
It will debut as a play reading at the Nakai Theatre Homegrown Theatre Festival, which runs from May 6 to 11 at the Guild Hall.
The play deals with the very real consequences of bullying and violence in a fictional high school in central Maine.
Through his research Rutherford has become quite the expert on American school shootings.
Over coffee, he easily recites alarming information.
There have been more than 400 school shootings in the U.S.
Between 2000 and 2010 there were 52, he said.
And most of those don’t get a lot of national attention.
“The ones that do make the national news are simply like Newtown, Columbine, Virginia Tech etc. where they shoot random people,” Rutherford said.
“But if somebody goes to a school and shoots somebody that they really didn’t like or shoots three or four of them, the level of gun violence in the States says that’s not a national news story.
“That’s local news and that’s why it almost never gets broad coverage.”
Rutherford said he decided to focus his research on American shootings after he realized just how many of them there were.
Canadian school shootings number about 17 or 18, he said.
Rutherford said he hopes the play will be educational.
“Maybe we can learn from the fact that we have far fewer than the States have.”
American school shootings are not soley a modern problem.
The first one happened before the U.S. was even the U.S. It was still a British colony.
In 1764 a group of men entered a log schoolhouse in south central Pennsylvania, killing the teacher and nine students.
“Just ‘cuz,” said Rutherford. “They never caught the people who did it.”
Depending on what study you’re looking at, between 80 and 86 per cent of American school shootings are caused by some form of bullying, Rutherford said.
“It’s motive and opportunity. These people are bugging me, and I have no way of dealing with it, and I live in a land where damn near everybody has a gun, so I’m going to fix my problem. That’s largely the rationale behind most of them.”
The play deals with that relationship between bullying and school shootings.
Pushing a person over the edge, to the point where they pick up a gun, is rarely caused by one event, Rutherford said.
“It’s a whole chain of events. And if you were to break the chain at any point it probably wouldn’t happen.”
And, on the Second Day was the 2013 winner of the Nakai Theatre Next 24 Hour Playwriting Challenge.
Rutherford called the 24-hour experience “a riot.”
Participants essentially lock themselves away for a full day to write.
“I’m not home. There are minimal distractions. Sometimes it’s nice to just pick up and pull the plug and look at different scenery.”
This latest play begins and ends with a veteran news anchor being interviewed about a novel he’s written on “one individual and, by the way, horribly fictional, case,” Rutherford said.
He said the goal is to “take a look at bullying and how prevalent it actually is.”
Characters in the play include parents, students and teachers, and the story focuses in on how they dealt with a single act of violence.
It’s not a small cast. For the Homegrown reading there are 11 actors. To do it as a fully developed play there are five non-speaking parts on top of that.
Four students in the cast are from the local MAD (Music Arts and Drama) Program.
“(Teacher) Mary (Sloan) accused me of Shop-Vaccing the MAD class,” Rutherford said.
The reading gives students a chance to learn about the production from its very early incarnation.
“It’s educational, it gives you a chance to actually sit there and go through the process of rehearsal, tech, dress, we’re on,” he said.
The play is still in development. Earlier this month was the first time Rutherford actually heard other people read it.
When writing a play there comes a point when “the little voices in your head don’t work anymore,” he said. “You actually need other people reading the dialogue before you can sit there and go, ‘Oh, that’s what it actually sounds like.’”
Next comes the tweaking, making sure everything sounds just right.
Eventually Rutherford hopes to stage a complete play. That’s not likely to happen until some time next year, he said.
The readings will be presented several times during the festival. They are scheduled for May 7, 8 and 10, all at 7 p.m. in the Guild Hall’s main space.
Contact Ashley Joannou at