Setting: Suburban New Jersey, 2019
Elite magnet school. Overstressed students, all worried about college prep, come on stage to get ready for another challenging school day. A tall, good-looking senior, JOSH – upbeat and enthusiastic – encourages his classmates to embrace joy and happiness. (Just One More Day). PRINCIPAL SAUNDERS encourages all students to do well on their exams – “remember to do things the DaVinci way. “ The bell rings.
MR. GIOVANI, a popular biology teacher has a small class of elite students reviewing for their end-of-quarter biology exam. The students take a moment at the beginning of class to discuss college applications and the stress of it all. One student, DAMON, feels that college is a total waste of time and that there are better choices they can make. (It Doesn’t Matter). As Mr. Giovani takes on Damon, the school fire alarm goes off. The students feel it is just a test alarm, but Mr. Giovani tells them to line up. They resist until a coded message comes on the loudspeaker, the message meaning “there’s an active shooter in the building.” (Help Me/Save Me). The students feel this, too, is part of the drill. They don’t take it seriously. Mr. Giovani locks the door and orders them back by a closet. The students are reluctant, until – three gunshots are heard.
With the kids huddled in a corner, we FLASHBACK to weeks prior. We meet RUBY (the insightful cheerleader) and AVA (the Brainiac) who are both in love with Josh. Ruby feels betrayed by Ava wanting to date Josh. (He Is Mine). We meet RAUL (energetic), who has dreams of attending Julliard and being a “star” – but his father wants him to go to a “real” college. We meet WENDY – the younger sister of Josh who has skipped a grade. She’s struggling with her parents’ recent divorce. (I Pretend). BACK TO THE PRESENT. Damon tells his classmates they can’t simply hide, they have to take action. Over Mr. Giovani’s strong objections, he leaves the classroom in search of a friend who is not responding to his texts. The other students fear for Damon, but Mr. Giovanni will not let them leave the room. In a FLASHBACK we see how much of a rebel Damon really is and watch him preach to his classmates about the big issues of the day and why “life” is more important than school. (Between the Lines).
PRESENT. The fire alarm stops. Silence. The students in the room think about leaving. Some are worried about Damon and want to go find him. Mr. Giovani won’t let anyone leave. The students feel the incident may be “over” but then… a gunshot is heard, this time much closer to them. FLASHBACK. We meet Kyra. She’s the tattooed artist, who feels like nobody understands her, particularly her single mother. Kyra felt like she was “dying” at DaVinci and had even contemplated suicide. (Like a Child). We also meet MIA, the new girl in town – she’s not like the “others” but instead of wanting to fit in, she tries to influence her new peers, tries to get them to examine how they live their lives. (Live Your Life). And then there is JOSH – whom everyone looks at as “the perfect student” but who has many insecurities about himself. We also learn that Mr. Giovani is also disillusioned. (Life Is A Journey). There is too much paperwork at school, too much bureaucracy. Even though he is one of the most popular teachers, he’s thinking about leaving the school. PRESENT. The gunshots have stopped. The kids all seem completely traumatized as they huddle together again. Silence. A beat. Police sirens are heard. This is comforting to them – and disturbing. They hold each other tight until Mr. Giovani orders them to step toward the door. Just as they do so, Damon pounds on the door – “let me in, let me in. He’s right here.” Mr. Giovani orders them not to open the door (That is All), but Wendy and a few other students run over and open the door. Damon is standing there – but so is the shooter. As he raises his gun – SCREAMS! Blackout. Gunshot.
Two weeks later. The students are still in shock. Still reeling from the events of the shooting that left one student dead and three wounded. We are not sure which student was killed – but surviving students are all devastated. The students come in, anxious and nervous about school. (Just One More Day). Ruby expresses her unrequited love to Josh (How Many Times) and Damon expresses his love for Kyra. The two couples sing a love song together. (Talk to Me). Wendy is frustrated that everyone is so overly protective of her now. Mr. Giovanni sees that Ava is upset at her locker and feels that it has something to do with Josh not loving her back. (A Heart) He shares his story of love. Bells rings. In class, students are asked to write an essay about the shooting. Josh reminds them that life still can be beautiful. Ava, Kyra and Raul are not so sure. They want to know if their dreams can ever come true now. (Can You Tell Me If Dreams Will Come True?)
Damon sits with Kyra in the cafeteria. A proud Damon reminds the students that “our parents” have left us with a mess, “we have to prepare for more struggles ahead.” He feels that parents and adults won’t solve the school shooting epidemic – “it is up to us.” (Together We Defend). Josh doesn’t want the other students to listen to Damon – he’s more hopeful. Wendy laments her parents’ divorce. She really needs them now. Raul reveals he’s decided that he will be a performer no matter what – he doesn’t want to waste a moment of life. (Being On Stage). Ruby confronts Ava about falling for Josh. They have a heated argument but come together. (Best Friends).
They head outside where Ruby leads a small ceremony. Students gather to stand with her as she dedicates a small plaque which she recently had made. This plaque is for Josh, revealing that he was the one murdered. We learn that the Josh we’ve seen earlier in this act is, in fact, a ghost. Josh stands near Ruby. He can hear and see them, but they can’t see him. He can’t believe he was shot and killed, but when he tries to hug Ruby and Ava, he finally accepts the terrifying truth – he’s dead (Not In This Lifetime). There is an assembly in the school auditorium immediately after, where students pay tribute to the wounded students and Josh. Mr. Giovani tells the students how he feels he failed to protect Josh, how he will never get over it. Wendy sings a song for her brother. (People I Love). An emotional Josh, the ghost, speaks to the student body – they can’t hear him, but they feel his presence. Afterwards, Ava and Ruby bond again. Ruby puts two hearts on Josh’s locker – one with Josh’s name and one with Ava’s name. She knows that Josh loved Ava. She leaves. Ava remains at the locker. Josh watches her. Together – Ava and Josh’s ghost – reflect on what could have been. (Once In My Life).
One month later. The kids are feeling somewhat hopeful again. They will never be the kids (the people) they were at the beginning – but they are learning to cope with this fact – for now. Raul has been accepted to Juilliard on scholarship. (Julliard). The shooting has somehow renewed Kyra’s desire to embrace life and she’s now dating Damon, who has re-committed to DaVinci, and his education. The traumatic event has brought him closer to his peers and his school. Mia introduces a new kid to the school, who is welcomed with open arms. Ruby and Ava are best friends again. Mr. Giovani is going to stay at Da Vinci, the only place he feels he belongs. Da Vinci will never be whole again. But maybe, just maybe, these kids will be the ones to make the world a much better place. (Just One More Day)
I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. — Leonardo da Vinci
WHY TELL THIS STORY?
A school shooting might be an unusual arena for a high school musical, but at its core DaVinci Academy is a celebration of life and a tribute to the strength and courage of a special group of young people.
There have been other plays/films/TV shows about school shootings, but often they focus on the shooter and on the political fallout from these tragedies. DaVinci Academy is focused instead on the emotional life of these teenagers. These students are going through something most of us never had to and can’t even imagine. Not only are they dealing with all the issues of “coming of age,” but they also must deal with the traumatic reality of a shooter on school grounds. This new reality has put every high school student in America on edge – wondering if their school, if they, will be next. We do not show the shooter, nor do we mention his name or motives. DaVinci Academy is about the students who survived (and the one who was murdered) – it is about their hearts and souls.
juxtaposition of mundane high school life with a high school shooting highlights
the tense situation many teenagers find
themselves in today. How has all this affected them on an emotional level? Have they lost their teenage years forever?
Are they forced to grow-up much too soon?
Does the shooting now make their lives before the shooting seem shallow
and meaningless? Have they lost all hope for the future? Can they dream again? Will they ever truly smile again?
The message of DaVinci Academy is ultimately one of hope. It treats teenagers with
respect, honoring their intelligence and strength. Teenagers today are not as
they are often portrayed in the media (obsessed with their phones, aloof,
shallow) but rather they are deeper, more introspective, more mature than many
generations that came before them. What other generations have had to face
violence of this kind at school?
The students of DaVinci Academy
find a way to move forward, to hold onto their dreams, while at the same time
vowing to always honor and remember what happened. They vow to change the world
– and they just might.