Members of the cast of The Amish Project. Photo by Morris Ertman.
Members of the cast of The Amish Project. Photo by Morris Ertman.

On the morning of October 2, 2006 a man entered a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania and shot eight of ten young girls aged 6–13. He injured five, killed five others, before turning the gun on himself.

What set this particular mass shooting apart from others like it, was in the response from the Amish community. Rather than condemn and seek revenge, they chose to forgive the gunman and embraced his family as fellow victims.

In Jessica Dickey’s The Amish Project, set to play Studio 1398 on Granville Island this month, these tragic events are presented in a fictional exploration of what it means to forgive.

“No matter how much time I spend with this script, no matter how deeply we dive into this story, no matter how much I know about the events that inspired it, I cannot wrap my mind around the enormity of the forgiveness that the Amish community extended in the face of this tragedy,” says director Angela Konrad. “The opportunity to live inside that reality is life-giving.”

The Amish Project centres on the gunman’s widow, Carol, who not only wrestles with questions about the man she thought she knew, but with the outpouring of generosity from those most affected by the tragedy.

For Kelsey Krogman, who plays Carol, it is about coming to the realization that she is not to blame for her another’s actions.

“When as a child I learned my favourite aunt was divorcing my uncle; one of the first things I thought was that it was my fault somehow,” she says. “I imagine that I’m not alone in automatically turning on myself to find the ways I’m to blame for accidents, conflicts, disappointments or tragedies. Carol struggles with this blame, too. How can she possibly move forward for her kids when she suspects she failed her husband, and as a result, a schoolhouse-full of other mothers’ children?”

Anna Dalgleish, who plays one of the Amish girls in the piece, knows how difficult it can be to explore tragedies such as this on stage.

The Amish Project does not shy away from that reality, but with the brokenness still in view, reminds us we still decide how to respond,” she says. “It reminds us that the hands that have the power to destroy also have the ability to heal.”

The Amish Project plays Studio 1398 on Granville Island February 20-23. Visit darkglasstheatre.com for tickets and information.