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Little Theatre Of Virginia Beach Presents Perspective Of Gun Violence Survivors In World Debut Of THE REMAINS

"The Remains" will be available for online viewing from January 29 through February 21.

Little Theatre Of Virginia Beach Presents Perspective Of Gun Violence Survivors In World Debut Of THE REMAINS

Comedy and tragedy- the Yin and Yang of theatre. Dramas in particular give audiences a safe way to experience difficult situations, to learn, grow, and possibly heal. But before audiences can have such an experience, it takes a playwright with empathy of the human condition to translate such complexity for the stage. Andrew Fortman is a playwright doing just that in his world premiere of "The Remains" at Little Theatre of Virginia Beach. The play unfolds the year after a high school shooting, from the perspective of the shooter's mother and the teacher/coach he spared.

Why take on such a sensitive topic? The drama was inspired by the Parkland, Florida school shooting. Fortman explained, "I was home sick from work and was watching the events unfold on TV in real time. For some reason, I kept thinking about the shooter's mother and wondering- where does she go from here? What does life look like for her tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or 10 years from now? I just couldn't get her off of my mind. And the next day, I sat down to start writing 'The Remains.'"

Fortman said he approaches writing as a way of learning, and that it is his job to ask genuine questions without expecting himself or his characters to give concrete answers. "I think it's in that space between the question and the answer that authenticity lives for all of us. And I strive to write scripts that live squarely in that space," said Fortman. "I'm always very interested in exploring how people respond and recover from traumatic events- how do we heal? How do we grieve? And, also, what happens to the stories and memories of loved ones we lose? I'm drawn into real characters in normal circumstances who find themselves suddenly having to cope with something extraordinary."

That hits close to home for Kathy Hinson, who plays the mother of the shooter in "The Remains." She works for the City of Virginia Beach and was on lockdown after the deadly gun violence at the municipal complex in 2019. She said portraying her character is helping her heal. "I was not sure I was ready to talk about the subject matter, but I read the script and was drawn in by not only the character of Andi, but how intimate and personal the script felt without having an ulterior motive," said Hinson. "There is no definitive answer provided, no attempt to push forward some agenda about guns, bullying, or mental health or something. It was just open and honest. It has actually been almost cathartic working through this character and it allowed me to voice some of the frustrations and sadness I have felt after May 31."

Presenting this drama while the community is still healing from our local tragedy as well as the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic is something director Robert Shirley is approaching with the help of a team of experts. The production team has been consulting with staff from the new VB Strong Center to address properly alerting audiences to the play's subject matter and how to access resources for behavioral health needs. The VB Strong Center, in partnership with Sentara Healthcare, offers a variety of therapeutic activities and recovery services at no cost to anyone impacted by the May 31, 2019 tragedy.

While Shirley has been involved in theatre since he was a child, this is his first time directing a play that will be filmed for a virtual audience, as well as directing the playwright himself. It was his idea to ask Fortman to travel from his home in Chicago to play the teacher/coach in this two-person drama. "I think it is a challenge to affirm any actor's choices while working to present a picture through a director's lens. In this case, the playwright is an extraordinary actor who is secure and open to direction. It is very rewarding," said Shirley. Fortman is gracious to be a part of his own premier as both an actor and playwright. "It is such a bizarre experience to be hunched over a laptop for nine months writing a script and then, suddenly... have it get on its feet," said Fortman.

The script for "The Remains" evolved from informal readings in Fortman's living room with friends to staged readings including a theatre workshop in Charlottesville. He hopes his experience inspires others to try expressing their voice through the dramatic arts. Fortman advises, "You have to ignore the nagging voice inside of you that says 'you don't know what you're talking about.' I find it to be such a loud voice of doubt, and it has stopped me so many times in this process. I almost stopped writing 'The Remains' altogether. But, the key is to push forward and just write whatever comes to mind and then make sense of it much later. The truth is, none of us is an expert on living. Life is one curveball after another. So, the more ways we can explore that journey together- asking questions and considering solutions- the better. I think it's why I love live theatre so much."

Little Theatre of Virginia Beach is holding the safety of its patrons in high regard as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. "The Remains" will be available for online viewing from January 29 through February 21. Tickets can be purchased during that time from ltvb.com. The prices are $15 for a single ticket and $25 for a family ticket, or you can use your season pass if you have one. The production team and cast hopes "The Remains" will help heal. "This play is raw and has a difficult subject matter. It will make many people uncomfortable, but it will also remind us all of our humanity," said Hinson. "I think right now we could all benefit from remembering that we are each capable of great kindness and horrific devastation, but we are all humans who need one another."


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