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Billings teen's play about school-shooting trauma selected as national winner

Amanda Fagan
Posted at 3:26 PM, Nov 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-22 12:38:46-05

BILLINGS — "You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to die in a school shooting."

That's one of the first lines - and the title inspiration - of Amanda Fagan's debut play, "Lightning Strike".

"I’ve never been struck by lightning," the script continues, "yet I am now what they call a survivor."

Hallie, the play's main character, describes her experience surviving a school shooting, from the immediate aftermath to more than 20 years into the future.

Lightning Strike
Billings West senior Amanda Fagan was chosen as one of six winners of the national 'Enough! Plays to end gun violence' contest.

Fagan, a senior at Billings West High School, has never seen a school shooting first hand, but she’s been confronted with them all her life.

"The main character talks about experiencing her first active shooter drill when she was seven," Fagan said. "That was my experience.”

She also experienced the threat of a school shooting last year at West, when multiple messages were found written on bathroom stalls, along with a swatting attempt that sent the school into lockdown.

Billings West threat
Multiple threatening messages were found inside bathrooms at Billings West High School in November and December of 2022.

Fagan's history with the issue is almost as long as her writing career.

"I started when I was about six," she said. "When I was in first grade, I decided I wanted to be an author when I grew up."

"It surprises me with how adult her themes can be," mom Sherry Fagan added. "How complex her storylines and characters could be at such a young age."

Fagan has spent most of her young life putting those complex themes into stories, usually with no direct experience of her own. But that's never seemed to matter.

"I'm always writing about other people in situations that didn’t happen to me," she said. "My life isn’t all that exciting, so it's fun to write about people who have exciting lives."

"She's always surprised me with her writing - how sophisticated it can be," said dad Gerry Fagan. "And how she can write about things that she hasn't actually experienced, but it doesn't come through in the writing that way."

Gerry isn't the only one who thinks so. Lightning Strike was named one of six winners of the 'Enough! Plays to end gun violence' national contest. Each had their play read by professional actors on Nov. 6 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Lightning Strike reading
Professional actors read Amanda Fagan's play Lightning Strike on stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. on November 6, 2023.

"I was surprised at the emotional impact it had on me," Sherry said. "It brought tears to my eyes. That's the first time she’d done that with something she'd written."

The play fits in perfectly with Enough!'s goal: "Our mission is to promote playwriting as a tool for self-expression and social change, harnessing this generation's spirit of activism and providing a platform for America's playwrights of tomorrow to discover and develop their voices today."

"When we saw it performed, there were different people around me you could hear sniffling at different points," Sherry continued, "so you know it had the impact on them that it had on me."

"The reaction from actresses who performed her play was very cool," Gerry said. "It was fun to see her get such positive feedback."

"Hearing professionals tell me they think my work is amazing was important to know about the quality of what I create," Amanda added.

Fagan and actors
Amanda Fagan (second from left) poses with some of the actors who read Fagan's play, Lightning Strike, on stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on November 6, 2023.

It’s inspired Fagan to write - and direct - another play, based on true events of three sailors trapped for 17 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fagan just finished casting at West as she gets it ready for performance at the Montana State Thespian Festival in February.

"It's the second play I've directed, but the first I also wrote," she said. "I'm definitely going to be a bit stronger director this time."

Just another skill to add to this wunderkind's resumé.

"I wish I could have been that dedicated to something when I was that young," Sherry said. "It's great to have a child who’s as talented and skilled as Amanda is with her writing."

Amanda Fagan directing
Amanda Fagan (center) assigns audition scenes to Billings West students hoping to earn roles in a new play Fagan wrote and will direct.