In Docudrama 26 Pebbles, EWU Theater Looks To Express Grief, Hope and Sense Of Community


Emily Powers

“26 Pebbles” is full of touching moments illustrating the power of community. Here, cast members Abigail Zimmerman and Autumn Meiners embrace.

By Cannon Barnett, Reporter

Sara Goff, program director of theater at Eastern Washington University and mother of two, felt what she called a “disturbing” lack of hope after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. She felt it again after the Uvalde shooting in 2022. 

In choosing to produce 26 Pebbles, a docudrama written originally by Eric Ulloa, she and cast members keep the conversation surrounding gun violence open and provide a space for the wider community to grow.

Dec. 14th, 2022, marked the 10-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, in which 26 elementary school staff and students were shot and killed by a lone gunman in the community of Newtown, Connecticut. The docudrama depicts the “ripples” sent throughout the country by these losses, according to Ulloa. 

Within the EWU production, there was a particular weight placed on the actors, who spoke for the real people involved in this national tragedy. 

The production showcases the community of Newtown, pulling audiences through what happened before, during, and after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Many of the characters were parents of surviving children, though there were religious figures and community members as well. Every line said in the production was said in interviews by the real people involved.

For the first week of rehearsal, the cast focused on developing a deep connection to their respective characters and honoring the victims.

“There [was] a lot of understanding the darkness of what happened,” said Aspen Cullen, who played the spiritual healer “Jeriann.”

The story begins with an opportunity to get to know the community and town of Newton. (Emily Powers)

Blake Carlson, who played “Darren,” the father of two surviving children, reached out to the real Darren during this time as well. 

“I messaged him, just a quick little message saying ‘hey, I want to give this play all the love it deserves… and he answered me. He gave me all these little pieces, and in particular, he gave me this video that he had compiled on the community of Newtown,” Carlson said. “It’s not open to the public or anything — that was for us, and I got to show it to the cast.”

For many involved, it was difficult to separate their personal lives from the story they were telling.

“I was still working at the time, as a coach at the local high school. As a teacher, it’s really hard sometimes to set that rain away,” Cullen said. 

Goff mentioned that she wasn’t sure if she would even be able to continue her work.

“I have a first-grader, and I have a third-grader, and so when my son crawls into my lap, you know as the six-year-old he was, I feel viscerally his body, and that was very hard and I wasn’t sure I could do it,” Goff said. “The best thing about working with the cast was that they helped me. We did it together. We really did do it together.”

The deep sense of community that developed among the cast was undeniable. They would constantly reassure one another, and when one shared a vulnerable piece of information, at least one other would reliably reach out, physically, to offer comfort. During particularly emotional moments, an actor might have had both hands being held by other cast members.

Mo Stuart, who played Newtown-raised angel card reader “Starr”, said: “As a cast, we got really close. And I don’t think I would have been able to make it through this show without having such an amazing cast… Just having such a kind and amazing support group around me made it so much easier to be able to tell such a horrific story, and share experiences that need to be shared in a positive, respectful, and almost inviting way.”

EWU students play the part of student in the play. (Emily Powers)

During the performance, audience members were encouraged to build a community as well. Every member was given a unique, hand-drawn name tag and encouraged to introduce themselves to the people around them at the beginning of the show.

“It’s just about love,” Carlson said. “It’s about listening to each other, and it’s about really being there for each other in all crises, and when everything is okay. Just always having an open ear and an open heart. That’s what everyone is saying.”

According to Goff, gun violence disproportionately affects racial minorities, LGBTQ+ communities, and children. This claim is backed by information on the Sandy Hook Promise website, which you can access here.

“We should not and cannot be burdening our young people with this tremendous fear anymore. It’s not right… just saying ‘oh, there is nothing we can do,’  is wrong, and we really need to open up the conversation again, because if we talk about this stuff, and say, ‘why are we living this way,’ then change actually can happen. And it is happening.” Goff said.


Flyers at the EWU  26 Pebbles productions contain the following information:





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