UPDATE 1 PM: According too Christine Barclay of Barclay Performing Arts, Cameron Kasky is too ill to go on with the performance this afternoon. For more information, call the Boca Black Box Center for the Arts at 561-483-9036 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parkland shooting survivor Cameron Kasky, an outspoken anti-gun activist, will make a special appearance in a musical about people throughout history who have tried to assassinate U.S. presidents.
Kasky — who was one of the founders of the Never Again MSD advocacy group and the March for Our Lives rally following the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — will portray Lee Harvey Oswald in one matinee performance of the musical “Assassins” at the Boca Black Box Center for the Arts. Christine Barclay, owner and artistic director of Barclay Performing Arts, which is producing the show for Boca Black Box, asked Kasky if he could fill in for another actor during the matinee on Sunday. The Veterans Day performance will also be Kasky’s 18th birthday.
“Christine told me they needed someone to fill in for Oswald,” Kasky wrote in an email interview when asked why he chose to celebrate his birthday with this performance. “And I knew I would be in town, so it seemed like a no-brainer. I’ll have plenty of time to buy property and cigarettes later.”
Why do this show now?
The Stephen Sondheim musical opened off-Broadway in 1990 to mixed reviews, but the 2004 revival on Broadway went on to win five Tony Awards. The show is presented in a revue style, which allows the gunmen (and women) from different eras to interact onstage. The roster of assassins includes the likes of John Wilkes Booth, John Hinckley, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, Samuel Byck and Oswald.
“We as a society, we sort of glamorize the criminal and they become celebrities,” says Barclay. “Everyone knows the names of John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Nikolas Cruz. I had this moment when I realized I am taking a big, huge, scary step by doing this show right now. But I also thought it was a genius move. It’s exactly what is going on now, from guns to mental health to celebrity culture in our country. It literally has it all.”
Barclay and Kasky previously worked together in May for a staging of “Spring Awakening” a little over two months after the trauma of the Parkland shooting. That show — with it’s themes of teenage sexuality, rape, suicide, abortion and physical abuse — had six performers who attended Stoneman Douglas and made headlines in the New York Times as well as People, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair magazines. Like that show, this production of “Assassins” also has a cast that includes students from Stoneman Douglas, including Rachel Starikov and Ethan Kaufman. Ed Kolcz, the musical director of “Assassins” and “Spring Awakening,” is also a musical coach at various schools, including Stoneman Douglas.
There are nine guns and one rifle onstage in the course of the show’s narrative.
Barclay says, “Having that onstage in and of itself is a very sensitive thing right now. None of us in the cast had held a gun before. It was hard for [the Parkland students] to pick up that gun. It wasn’t easy.”
Barclay said that she enlisted the help of her husband, Joe, who grew up with guns in his household and could serve as a “gun safety consultant.”
For his part, Kasky says: “I think Oswald’s story is much less about guns as objects and more about mental health and the struggles one can face that would lead them to resorting to violence. Oswald is a tortured, desperate creature, and his evil act is a cry for help. I feel as if there’s something we can all learn from this.”
But then he admits that the first time he held the gun in rehearsal, his first thought was, “I’ve spent some lovely time with the Kennedy family and they are all fantastic people, so boy am I a jerk for doing this.”
The show is the thing
Rehearsing has been tricky since Kasky is constantly traveling as an advocate (he is finishing school online). He recently left the Never Again MSD/March for Our Lives initiative to focus on new projects encouraging bi-partisanship as well as a podcast.
“Fortunately, I’m only in one scene,” he adds. “My scene partner, Brendan [Feingold], is such a strong performer, however, that he really applies the pressure to be my best. It’s so hard to match his energy and mastery of his character’s nuances, and I find myself excited to rehearse just to try and get on his level.”
The matinee show with Kasky on Sunday will also have a Veterans Day Fair in Picadilly Square (where the Boca Black Box is located) starting at 11 a.m. The fair will include a bounce house, food trucks, pie and hotdog eating and contests, a cotton candy machine, super hero visits and, of course, tributes to veterans.
If you go
The Boca Black Box is at 8221 Glades Road #10, in West Boca Raton. Showtimes are 2 p.m. on Sunday and 7 p.m. on Monday. Tickets are $25 and $35 (there are $15 student rush ticket available at the door). To order call 561-483-9036 or go to BocaBlackBox.com.