THOUSAND OAKS, California — The cast of California Lutheran University's production about the 1999 Columbine school shooting had spent two months preparing for their debut. Then, the night before the show was set to open, a mass shooting nearby almost forced the show to shut down.
“Columbinus” was set to premiere on Nov. 8 until a gunman walked into the nearby Borderline Bar and Grill, a popular college hangout, on Nov. 7, killing 12 people and himself.
Justin Meek, a recent CLU graduate, was one of the first victims.
As news traveled across campus, posters promoting the performances were taken down, and opening weekend was cancelled.
Jonathan Irwin, a sophomore theater major who plays one of the two Columbine shooters, was hesitant to participate in the play after the news broke.
“The similarities between the perpetrator of [the Borderline shooting] and the Columbine events are very similar,” he said. “I just thought it was definitely like way too soon to be repeating something that, I mean, up until today, hadn't really been close to the community.”
After talking to his cast mates, Irwin decided that it was still important to perform, albeit once enough time had passed. The school’s administration didn’t come around as quickly. To gauge if the community was open to have the show go on, the theatre and dance department opened discussions about the play to everyone on campus.
Finally, a few days after the initial cancellation, word came down that the performances would be limited to one dress rehearsal and one invite-only performance.
“It is frustrating because we feel like we have so much to add to the conversation. But we're not necessarily sure what we're allowed to say anymore, for fear of offending people, for fear of it being taken the wrong way,” says Jordan Erickson, a member of the cast.
VICE News followed the students at California Lutheran University as they found themselves in the center of a debate about how soon is “too soon.”
This segment originally aired November 19, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.