Two Malibu High School alumni star in ‘The Columbine Project’

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Malibu local Morgan Roberts plays the role of Dylan Klebold in “The Columbine Project,” now playing at the Avery Schreiber Theatre in North Hollywood. Klebold and classmate Eric Harris killed 12 fellow students and a teacher at the real life high school in Littleton, Colorado in 1999.

The play, about the Columbine High School massacre, is the winner of five Artistic Director Achievement Awards and was named Best World Premiere Play in 2009 by StageSceneLA.

By Meg Boberg / Special to The Malibu Times

The tragedy of the Columbine High School massacre is the focus of “The Columbine Project,” a docudrama written and directed by Paul Storiale. The play explores the tragic event from various perspectives before, during and after that fateful day of April 20, 1999, when two school students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed 12 fellow students and one teacher.

Storiale visited the Cleveland, Ohio high school two weeks after the massacre and said the experience of seeing the ongoing devastation stuck with him.

“This story is too important to be left in the dark,” Storiale said. “I don’t want to take myself or the show too seriously, but it’s an experience of a lifetime, and I’m not saying that, I’ve just been told that by everyone.”

Ten years after the tragedy, “The Columbine Project” debuted in Los Angeles. The play moved to New York in July last year for a three-month Off-Broadway run at the Actors Temple Theatre in Times Square. It is now playing at the Avery Schreiber Theatre in North Hollywood. The script was a course study at the University of Utah last spring and two of its monologues are featured in the annual “The Best Women’s Stage Monologues and Scenes” published by Smith and Krause.

Since the beginning of the production, Malibu local Morgan Roberts has played the role of Dylan Klebold. Roberts is a 2003 Malibu High School alumnus, and a commercial and film actor. He is currently shooting a documentary set to premiere in February 2012 at the Venice Film Festival.

“For the first time in my life, I really feel like I’m doing something more than just boosting my resume or making art,” Roberts said of his role in the play. “It helps people every time we have a show. They’re deeply moved and they’re thanking us.”

Of what it’s like to portray Klebold, Roberts said, “I try to give him some humanity because he was just a kid, even though he was a Columbine killer, he also had a family, an older brother and parents who loved him and cared for him … It’s challenging because it’s a story that needs to be told that people can learn from, so it’s an honor and a privilege and the benefits outweigh any negativity that might arise from going to dark places or the occasional critic who thinks it was done in bad taste.”

Storiale has the cast members remember a traumatic event in order to get into character.

“I call it trauma nostalgia; they have to go back to something that was traumatic to use to their advantage,” Storiale said. “When [the actors are] first cast in the show, I tell them, ‘It will change your life,’ and they don’t understand to what extent it changes their life [until] after they’re done with the show.”

Carson Higgins, a 2006 Malibu High School alumnus well known for his stint on this season’s “American Idol,” plays the character of Brooks, Klebold’s best friend who is spared on the day of the massacre.

Higgins was in sixth grade when the tragedy happened, and said it has been a life changing experience to learn about the events of that day and the aftermath.

“It’s been a stretch for me, and I do comedy and musicals, and I’m not singing and it [the play] is not funny,” Higgins said. “It’s been a really powerful experience as an actor and just as a young adult. In a normal play, you show up, get ready do your thing. In this, it’s this weird eerie kind of mood we find ourselves in… it’s really strange, but I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. We get into the minds of these people and do our best to represent them honestly.”

The Columbine Project is playing at the Avery Schreiber Theatre in North Hollywood. The last two performances are May 13 and 14 at 8 p.m. More information and tickets can be obtained online at www.thecolumbineproject.com or by calling 8 18. 766.9100.