When the Parkland school shooting happened in Florida, Jonathan Beyer, a sixteen-year-old sophomore at Apex High School, struggled to make sense of his feelings: sadness, anger, confusion.
"I felt unsafe at school," Beyer says. "Just a lot of contradicting emotions. To deal with that response to the shooting, I threw myself into organizing. Thinking, what could I do to try to change what is happening?"
Beyer saw himself in many of the Parkland survivors. Not only were they high school students, like him, but they were also theater kids. In an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, Cameron Kasky, one of the teen activists from Parkland, debunked the notion that they were paid actors with a self-deprecating joke about his performance in Fiddler on the Roof. And Emma Gonzalez spoke about her experiences in drama class on the day of the shooting.
Since the Parkland shooting in February, teens across the country have mobilized their communities as part of the March for Our Lives movement, calling for stricter gun-control regulation. Here in the Triangle, Beyer decided to organize in his own way: putting on an improv show by and for teenagers.
"I just wanted to try and combine my and my peers' love for the arts and comedy and theater with trying to help the victims of Parkland, and that's how the idea was born," Beyer says.
The Improv 4 Parkland fundraiser has two shows on Sunday. The one at 6 p.m. features Cary, Garner, and Enloe high school teams, while the one at 7:30 features Garner and two improv teams from Moonlight Stage Company, the Improvables and the Estesstentials. All proceeds will go directly to survivors of the Parkland shooting.
Raleigh improv company ComedyWorx donated its theater free of charge, and the adult improv community offered to help the teen organizers in any way they could, according to Beyer.
"This event is to directly support the victims of gun violence more than to advance a political agenda," Beyer says. "But I personally believe that helping those affected by gun violence is a political act."
Ben Pluska, a senior at Enloe and co-captain of Happy Accidents, an improv team that will perform at the fundraiser, says his team tends to steer away from politics, but they all eagerly agreed to do this show when given the opportunity.
"In public school, teachers and students are taught to leave your political opinions outside the conversation," Pluska says. "But I feel like this is turning over a new leaf."
Last month, Pluska participated in a walkout at Enloe in remembrance of the Parkland victims. His classmates are planning another this week, when they will perform a song in remembrance of the victims.
"It's a comedy show. It's nothing out of the ordinary. But, for this show, we are trying to do more than make people laugh," Beyer says. "We're trying to help people whose lives have been turned around by gun violence. Theater kids have been at the forefront of this fight. Let's continue that."