Eric Ulloa’s 26 PEBBLES Examines How a Community Endures in the Wake of Tragedy

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(Clockwise from top left) Jason Podplesky, Gina Handy, Caitlin McWethy, Scott Hunt, Christine Brunner & Jennifer Joplin. Photo by Scott J. Kimmins.

Bio-play about the residents of Newtown, Connecticut makes its professional premiere February 2 – 19, 2017 with The Human Race Theatre Company

(Dayton, OH) — The Human Race Theatre Company gives voice to an entire town of people who first witnessed unimaginable heartbreak, then suffered through emotional pain and unanswered questions before learning how to move forward with Eric Ulloa’s new play, 26 PEBBLES. On December 14, 2012, an act of unbelievable madness took the lives of 20 innocent children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. These 26 deaths—described by one local resident as “pebbles thrown into a pond”—created ripples that captured the attention of the entire nation. Now, through a series of interviews with the people of this small New England town, true stories—in their own words—of that tragic day and its aftermath come to light in this powerful drama that asks, “How does a community endure the ultimate test, and what comes after the cameras and noise leave?” The preview performance of 26 PEBBLES is Thursday, February 2. Opening night is Friday, February 3.

Playwright Eric Ulloa, perhaps better known as a Broadway performer last seen onstage in the Gloria and Emilio Estefan musical On Your Feet!, brought 26 PEBBLES to The Human Race’s attention not long after the theatre’s 2014 workshop of Molly Sweeney: A Musical, his collaboration with Caleb Damschroder. Moved by its compelling story and true testimonials, Human Race President & Artistic Director Kevin Moore took the company’s mission of “exploring the human experience and promoting inclusion and understanding” to heart when he selected Ulloa’s new script for its professional premiere on the 2016-2017 season.

“26 PEBBLES is not a play about the death of 20 young children and 6 adults. Those are just the circumstances,” says Ulloa. “It is the story of hope and of family and of community. It is the story of the human condition.”

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Playwright Eric Ulloa.

“IT NEEDS TO BE TOLD”
As to his motivation to write such a play, Ulloa recalls the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and how President Obama called it the worst day of his presidency. “For me, it was something that shook me at my core and a feeling that wouldn’t leave for months after,” he recalls. “I was angry at what we had just endured, and was tired of finding myself once again not able to do anything about it.” Feeling then gave way to action. “Finally, at around six months after the tragedy, I set off to Newtown with a handful of questions that I was hoping to have answered by the members of this community. The only plan was to be open and to listen. I was just interested in the real stories of how human beings deal and process an unimaginable moment like this.”

The process started slowly as Ulloa first found potential interviewees were willing to help, but apprehensive to actually talk about their feelings. “It all began with only one scheduled interview, which soon after became three…and then six…and then ten. By the end of it all, I ended up spending a few weeks in Newtown and held over 60 interviews with people from all walks of life.” That outpouring of support went beyond conversation. He continues, “I was given free housing—someone literally gave me their home to stay in—multiple meals, families who took care of my dog during the day and gave me access to parts of this story that no one else had. I had become a member of their community and they had become instant lifelong friends.”

Upon leaving Newtown with dozens of personal accounts in hand, Eric was committed to give them their due attention by the last words from many of his new friends. “They were quite simple and direct,” he explains. “They said, ‘Go tell our story. It needs to be told.’”

In telling that story, the playwright enlisted the aid of director and frequent collaborator Igor Goldin (who directed the earlier Molly Sweeney: A Musical workshop production) to helm this production. “Igor is one of the finest directors in the country,” praises Ulloa. “He has been working with me on 26 PEBBLES since very early in development. When I knew The Human Race would be premiering my play, I knew the next call I had to make was to Igor.” In addition to his prolific directing work around the country, Goldin is well known for developing new musicals, primarily Off-Broadway, where his efforts have earned him three New York Musical Theatre Festival Awards of Excellence.

CAST AND DESIGN TEAM
The six-member cast performs multiple roles through the play, portraying real life residents of Newtown. The ensemble includes Human Race Resident Artists Christine Brunner (Steel Magnolias,Play It by Heart and Permanent Collection), Scott Hunt (The Glass Menagerie, Big River, Ordinary Days) and Jennifer Joplin (The Glass Menagerie, Other Desert Cities, God of Carnage), as well as Gina Handy (The Full Monty and Sweeney Todd, Short North Stage’s Sunset Boulevard), Caitlin McWethy (The Diary of Anne Frank, Henry VI and Cyrano de Bergerac at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company) and Jason Podplesky (Becky’s New Car, Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Emancipation, Know Theatre of Cincinnati’s Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party).

Human Race Technical Director Scott J. Kimmins is the scenic designer on his eighteenth production in the Loft Theatre, creating a minimalist, yet versatile, set that is complimented by projected multimedia throughout the play. Dave Cantrell serves as the video programmer. Costume designer Jessica Pitcairn makes her Human Race premiere. Resident Artists John Rensel (lighting designer) and Jay Brunner (sound designer) round out the design team. Lexi Muller is the production stage manager.

Biographies on the cast and creative team can be found on The Human Race Theatre Company’s website.

The Human Race Theatre Company’s production of 26 PEBBLES is sponsored by Barbara N. O’Hara, Rob and Leesa Comparin, Jack and Maryann Bernstein, Moore Family Fund, Barbara E. Blauman and The George B. Quatman Foundation—Fifth Third Bank, Trustee.

PERFORMANCE AND SPECIAL EVENT INFORMATION
Tickets for the preview performance of 26 PEBBLES on February 2 start at $35 for adults, $32 for seniors and $17.50 for students. For all performances February 3 – 19, single ticket prices start at $40 for adults, $37 for seniors and $20 for students. Prices vary depending on the day of the week and seating location. Group discounts are available for parties of 10 or more. The Human Race is offering a pair of discount ticket opportunities during the run of the show. A limited number of $12 and $25 side-area seats are available in advance for all performances. The Sunday, February 5 7:00 p.m. performance is “Sawbuck Sunday,” when any available seat can be purchased in person for just $10 at the Loft Theatre box office two hours prior to the show. Discounts are subject to availability and some restrictions apply.
All performances are at the Metropolitan Art Center’s Loft Theatre, located at 126 North Main Street in downtown Dayton, Ohio. Show times for 26 PEBBLES are 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Performances on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings begin at 7:00 p.m., and at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday matinees.

WRITERS SEMINAR WITH ERIC ULLOA
On Saturday, February 4, The Human Race and the Ohio Playwrights Circle present “Telling Their Story,” a seminar with Eric Ulloa for creative writers of all experience levels. Ulloa will talk about conducting interviews with Newtown residents and discuss his process—and responsibility—of turning their stories into a powerful evening of theatre as a guide for writers who seek to develop literary works from actual events. The seminar is from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Loft Theatre and is open to the general public. The fee is $50 and includes a ticket voucher to 26 PEBBLES.

 

Tickets and performance information on 26 PEBBLES and registration for Ulloa’s “Telling Their Story” seminar are available at http://www.humanracetheatre.org or by calling Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630, and at the Schuster Center box office.

 

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Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, The Human Race Theatre Company was founded in 1986 and moved into the Metropolitan Arts Center in 1991, taking up residence at the 212-seat Loft Theatre. In addition to the Eichelberger Loft Season, The Human Race produces new works development and special event programming. Under the direction of President and Artistic Director Kevin Moore, the company also maintains education and outreach programs for children, teens and adults, as well as artist residencies in area schools, an In-School Tour, and a summer youth program. Human Race organizational support is provided by Culture Works, the Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District, the Shubert Foundation, the Erma R. Catterton Trust Fund, the Jesse & Caryl Philips Foundation, the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council, which helped fund this organization with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. The 2016-2017 Sustainability Sponsors are the ELM Foundation, Anne F. Johnson, Steve and Lou Mason, and Morris Home Furnishings. The 2016-2017 Loft season sponsor is the Jack W. and Sally D. Eichelberger Foundation of the Dayton Foundation, with additional support from Premier Health.

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