Bang Bang You're Dead (play)

Bang Bang You're Dead is a one-act play written by William Mastrosimone, with the assistance Michael Fisher, Director of the Thurston High School Drama Department, Springfield, Oregon. In April 1999, less than a year after the Kinkel killings, Fisher and his high school cast debuted "Bang Bang"—following months of negotiations with Thurston High's administrators, faculty, and parents—in a Springfield theater, where it was deemed a success. The next day, the play was made available, free of charge, on the Internet, and according to Dramatics magazine, which is published by the Educational Theatre Association, it was the most-produced one-act play in high schools during the 1999-2000 school year. According to Mastrosimone, it “is a drama to be performed by kids, for kids” for free. The plot focuses on Josh, a high school student who murders his parents and five classmates. It is strongly based on the events surrounding Kip Kinkel's shootings of his parents on May 20, 1998, and 27 of his classmates at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon on May 21, 1998.[1] As of October 2002, three years after its publication, the play had been performed over 15,000 times.[2]

Bang Bang You're Dead
Written byWilliam Mastrosimone
Date premieredApril 7, 1999
Original languageEnglish
SubjectSchool violence


William Mastrosimone intended Bang, Bang, You're Dead to be easily accessed and performed by teens “in any modest playing area," and therefore production requires “no set, no lights, no costumes (except for contemporary dress)." Its purpose is to raise awareness of the roots of school violence, which, as Mastrosimone writes in his notes on the play, are not always easily seen. Mastrosimone hopes that the play will help people “see tragedy before it happens." Mastrosimone stresses the importance of young people seeing the play performed by their peers, and therefore he does not allow the play to be on film or video. Mastrosimone hopes to reach out to potential killers in the thousands of audiences that the play continues to gather.[3]


Bang, Bang, You're Dead! was written in the wake of three school shootings: Thurston High School (Springfield, Oregon) on May 21, 1998, Heat High School (Paducah, Kentucky) on December 4, 1997, and Westside Middle School (Jonesboro, Arkansas) on March 23, 1998. The names of the cities in which these shootings took place are echoed multiple times within the script.

The tragedy most significant to the play was the shooting at Thurston High School. The play, based strongly on the events that surrounded this particular school shooting, premiered at Thurston. It was performed by Thurston students, some of whom had been wounded in the shooting by Kip Kinkel.[4]

Mastrosimone wrote the first draft while troubled by a recent event at his son's school, in which an anonymous classmate of his son wrote a message on a chalkboard, threatening to kill his classmates and his teacher.[5]

New York International Fringe Festival

"Bang Bang You're Dead" was performed at Fringe NYC 2013 by students from the Actors Playground School of Theatre, and members of their theater company, Playground Theatre Project, from August 9 through the 25th. Directed by Ralph Colombino and Dan Cooley, and assisted by Rich Palmros and Stage Manager Gianna Marino, the show was greeted with much praise, led by the performances of Ed Squires, in the lead role of Josh, Ryan Shapiro, Summer Russo, James Garlock, Gracemarie Loretta, and Caroline Palsi.[6]

Première performance

Bang, Bang, You're Dead, was first performed in April 1999 at the very spot that inspired it: Thurston High School in Springfield, OR.[7]


The première of Bang, Bang, You're Dead was met with some criticism and controversy as well as praise and even endorsement. Some locals, including Dennis Murphy, the fire chief of Springfield at the time, were hostile towards the production at first. Many thought that Mastrosimone was using the recent tragedies to “cash in.” The play was immediately endorsed by the Ribbon of Promise, a group dedicated to nonviolence in schools, formed in Springfield after the shooting.[8]


Josh—Josh is the play's main character. The play takes place in his jail cell after he has murdered his parents and five of his classmates. Beneath his arrogant facade, he is deeply insecure and frightened.
Emily—Josh's best childhood friend and next door neighbor, who he had an unrequited crush on, seeing as she was in a relationship with Michael. She is independent and passionate, and refuses to deal with Josh when he does not follow through on plans or promises, triggering much of Josh's anger.
Katie— Katie was Josh's girlfriend but she broke up with him because he went to hunting instead of taking her to a movie. Katie was Michael's girlfriend when she was killed.
Michael—Michael is Katie's boyfriend. He is a strong, sensible presence and does not back down in the face of a challenge. When Josh pushes him out of his anger over Michael tearing his picture of his first buck, he begins to fight back.
Matt—Matt is an older classmate of Josh's but had never met Josh prior to the shooting. He is a smart, academically driven boy who was “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.
Jessie—Jessie was friends with Emily and therefore, knew Josh. She is a "girly girl" who spends a lot of her afterlife thinking about how she will never be able to raise a family of her own.
The Shadow—Josh's inner "high", his other half, his inner darkness. Possibly symbolic of the masculine pressure placed on Josh to "fit in" in the way his grandfather and others expect him to.

Actor 1—Actor 1 plays Josh's father, about 30–40 years of age, happily married. He loves his son but does not understand Josh's pain. The actor also plays Josh's grandfather, and the public defender in the court scene flashback.
Actor 2—Actor 2 plays the judge in the court scene and the prisoner who threatens Josh.
Actor 3—Actor 3 plays Josh's mother and the witness in the court scene.
Actor 4—Actor 4 plays the prosecutor and the psychotherapist Josh is forced to see.
Actor 5—Actor 5 plays the school principal, and old headmaster of Josh's school, slouches slightly and squints frequently, intimidating. the jury forewoman, and the police officer.
All five actors act as a chorus, coloring Josh's would-be monologues. They also are the rumors in school and the voices in the dark that haunt Josh.

Plot synopsis

Bang, Bang, You're Dead! opens in Josh's jail cell after he has killed his parents and five classmates. The ghosts of those classmates demand to know why he killed them. Actors 1 and 3 enter as Josh's father and mother. Flashing back, Josh tries to manipulate his parents into buying the gun, his manipulation showing as his parents exit arguing. Josh laughs to himself and says “divide and conquer. Works every time.” The ghosts enclose and push Josh, describing the “hell” he will live in until he answers them. Josh tries to shrug off this torment, but the ghosts seize Josh and push him into his coffin. He screams until he is let out, and “begins to look at the deceased with new respect”.

Josh flashes back to a hunting trip, narrated by the ghosts. Josh sees a buck, but he cannot kill it. The ghosts describe Josh's response to his struggle in a significant series of five lines that is repeated throughout the play:

Michael: So you make your face a mask.
Katie: A mask that hides your face.
Matt: A face that hides the pain.
Jessie: A pain that eats your heart.
Emily: A heart nobody knows.

Josh kills the buck, but is tormented by what he has just done. He hides his tears and brags about it the next day at school.
Josh is called to the school office and is accused of writing threatening words on a blackboard. Josh's parents take away his gun and send him to a psychotherapist. Josh contemplates suicide as voices in the dark taunt him, overwhelming him. A voice in the dark tells Josh to “stop the voices another way.” Josh kills his parents, and, in a monologue, reveals the daily pain he endures. The scene changes to the school cafeteria, and the ghosts once again ask him why he killed them, smearing ketchup where their gunshot wounds were. They then ignore Josh, speaking of what they miss and what they will never do. Josh, in realization, exclaims “I never thought I was taking away all that!” The ghosts tell Josh that they will haunt him for the rest of his life, shouting “DEAD!” one by one, and falling to the ground. The play ends with Josh's monologue:

I didn't know it would be forever. I thought it was "bang
bang you're dead" again. I thought I could just hit the reset
button and start over. Why can't I have another chance?
When I killed you I killed all my possibilities, too.
I'll never have anything to look forward to. Never.
Is this the rest of my life?
(Josh goes to his knees, devastated)

Oh God. [sobbing]


  • Bang Bang You're Dead was written in the wake of the school massacres that occurred in Paducah, Jonesboro, and Springfield; Mastrosimone wrote it to raise awareness about school violence. It supports the school violence charity Ribbon of Promise.
  • Even though this was written before the 1999 Columbine massacre, it is one of the massacres foreshadowed in this play.
  • "Bang Bang You're Dead" was written with the assistance Michael Fisher, Director of the Thurston High School Drama Department, Springfield, Oregon.
  • It has been performed widely in the United States, as well as in other countries such as the United Kingdom where Grimsby's Caxton Youth Theatre produced the European premiere of the play in 2000, Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay, Gibraltar, Sweden, Romania, Venezuela, India, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Bulgaria, and in Portugal by InActu Theatre Group, a group of students from Madeira Island, who have been working on the play since 2007, and in 2013 an amateur theatre group called GAEDE, from Oporto, also played Mastrosimone's piece of work at the Rivoli Theatre (Teatro Municipal). As the playwright intends Bang Bang You're Dead to raise awareness of school violence, it may be performed without payment of royalties, as long as the performance is not for profit, and subject to certain other conditions.
  • The 2002 Showtime telemovie Bang Bang You're Dead features students rehearsing and performing the play.
  • In 2013 it was performed at The New York Fringe Festival by The Playground Theatre Project.


  1. "2: Kip Kinkel's Life." PBS Frontline. WGBH educational foundation, 1998. Web. 23 Oct. 2009. <>
  2. RON WERTHEIMER. "TELEVISION REVIEW:Rage Then Tears for a Troubled Teenager."Rev. of: New York Times (1857-Current file) 12 Oct.2002,ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006),ProQuest. Web. 22 Oct. 2009.
  3. Witham, BB. "The voices of 'Bang, Bang You're Dead' (Play by William Mastrosimone about the Kip Kinkle rampage in Springfield, Oregon in November 1998)." THEATRE HISTORY STUDIES. 22 (2002): 83-93.
  4. Witham, BB. "The voices of 'Bang, Bang You're Dead' (Play by William Mastrosimone about the Kip Kinkle rampage in Springfield, Oregon in November 1998)." THEATRE HISTORY STUDIES. 22 (2002): 83-93.
  5. McMahon, Patrick. "'Bang, Bang' a Cautionary Play." USA TODAY. 5 Apr. 1999. Print.
  7. David Lefkowitz -
  8. McMahon, Patrick. "'ang, Bang' a Cautionary Play." USA TODAY. 5 Apr. 1999. Print.
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