Since opening our doors in 2018, ACT (A Contemporary Theatre) of CT’s goal has been to create a theater wherein Fairfield County feels a sense of ownership, pride, and enthusiasm. We don’t refer to ACT of CT as “our theater”, rather we intentionally call it “your theater”. As Artistic Director of ACT of CT, it is my responsibility to select the shows that we will produce each and every season. We generally present four mainstage musicals per year (each running for over a month) and it is extremely important that I choose carefully. I want our audiences to be able to enjoy and experience shows that they already know and love, but it is equally important to introduce patrons to lesser-known titles and even brand-new works. Nickel Mines is just that; a show that you have not seen before, and an important one at that.
Nickel Mines is a non-traditional musical centered around the 2006 Lancaster, PA Amish schoolhouse shooting in which a lone gunman shot ten girls (five fatally) before taking his own life. The show combines dialogue, movement, and original music to explore multiple perspectives from that fateful morning and is a living memorial to the young girls, ages 6-13, who lost their lives. This tragic event (referred to as “The Happening” throughout the Amish community) made worldwide headlines, not just because of the event itself, but also due to the Amish communities response. Within hours of the shooting, the Amish community (including the families of the victims) offered comfort and forgiveness to the family of the shooter, and in turn, to the shooter as well.
On the day of the shooter’s burial, media and press swarmed the burial site making it nearly impossible for the killer’s parents to grieve. Forty members of the Amish community arrived and created a “human shield of kindness” by surrounding the family and shielding them from the hundreds of cameras and reporters. Of the Amish community, the shooter’s mother said, “they surrounded us like a crescent prayer covering in order to protect us. The first two parents who greeted us at my son’s funeral were the parents that lost not just one daughter, but two daughters at the hand of our son.”
Nickel Mines examines how violence, faith, and justice speak to and interact with one another and is a powerful exploration of community, perseverance, and hope. Ultimately, the show is not just about one horrific act, but rather about the importance of community and the power of forgiveness.
Andrew Palermo, the show’s creator/director/choreographer, chose this subject matter as a theatrical lens through which to explore individual and societal reactions to the event, and to let the facts of this historical ‘moment in time’ speak for themselves through creative reenactment. Palermo says that the show aims to “look at the events of that fateful day through a variety of lenses while making no judgments and professing no morals. The victims, the family of the killer, and the community all have a voice in this piece.”
Nickel Mines co-author Shannon Stoeke adds, “we believe that the theater is a place to explore these heavy subjects with beauty and grace and honesty.”
As I’ve often said, live theater provides an occasion for people to come together and to create a community. As Artistic Director of ACT, my “formula” for deciding which four titles will be included in any given season is this: One musical with name recognition and mass appeal (past shows like Mamma Mia, and our upcoming Jesus Christ Superstar), one musical that audiences know of, but perhaps have never had the opportunity to see before (past shows like Little Shop of Horrors, and our upcoming Rent), one musical that audiences may or may not have ever heard of (past shows like Spelling Bee, and our recent Smokey Joe’s Café), and one musical that is probably brand-new to most patrons (past shows like Austen’s Pride, and our upcoming Nickel Mines). Of course, we all go to the theater to escape, to be entertained, to laugh, to hear songs and music that we know and love, to see familiar characters, and to have a great time with friends and family. But we also go to the theater to be moved, to cry, to dig deep, to remember, and to empathize. From the stories that are unfolding in real time right in front of our eyes on stage, we learn about what it means to be human. •
ACT of CT will be the first professional theater to premier a fascinating, elegant, and moving new musical, Nickel Mines. Due to COVID-19, Nickel Mines, which was originally scheduled to perform in March 2020, was canceled just days before opening night.
Thanks to the generosity of Ridgefield resident Anita Donofrio, the theater is able to bring back this important and powerful new production as part of their 2021-2022 season.
ACT: What was it about this new production that made you want to be
AD: I have to admit, when I was first approached to help (and knowing nothing of the production), I wondered, “a musical
about a shooting?” However, after talking to the founders of ACT of CT, talking in-depth with Artistic Director Daniel C. Levine, meeting Andrew Palermo (the creator of Nickel Mines), and reading all that I could about it, I was ready to help. We expect to hear about the subject of gun violence in the news, but to find it in the theater is likely less expected.
ACT: You are extremely passionate about gun reform and for the passing of gun control laws. Why this specific issue/cause?
AD: Every time there was a mass school shooting (and the ‘everyday’
shootings), I felt that I had to do something, but after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in our backyard, the tragic deaths of twenty innocent babies and six of their dedicated educators, I was devastated and outraged to do much more.
ACT: Is this your first experience assisting with the producing
of a musical?
AD: I have never been involved in theatrical production of any kind in
the past. This is my first experience and I’m sure that I will learn so much
on so many levels.
ACT: What do you hope this world-premiere musical will do for
ACT of CT audiences?
AD: I’ve learned that some people may not realize how much they have
to say or contribute to a discourse about this topic until a door is opened
for that conversation to take place. I hope that this musical will invite
audiences to witness the artistic re-telling of this powerful and true story, and to take the range of feelings that they may experience and (perhaps) discuss, connect, talk, and become involved in some way to make a change.