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Burnaby Mountain students show agony of the ecstasy
Students at a Burnaby high school were asked following a theatre performance recently how many of them had tried the drug ecstasy.
One brave soul put up their hand.
"Then they asked, 'Who knows where they can get it?' and everyone put their hand up," recalled Grade 11 Burnaby Mountain student Isaac Caverzan, 16, one of the actors that day.
If the Mountain drama students needed any reminder of why they created and produced their short play, Russian Roulette, about the dangers of ecstasy use, that was it.
"It's $5 a pill," Caverzan said. "Anyone can get their hands on it."
And it's the often fatal effects of the drug that prompted Burnaby RCMP to put out a call for proposals on how to get that message out to students. Mountain drama teacher Felicity Rudolph applied and the class was awarded a grant to create the show, written and produced by about 28 students from the school's theatre production and media studies classes.
The students will put on a free performance on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 7 p.m. at Michael J. Fox Theatre, aimed at parents and any students aged 12 and older.
In the last six years, 99 youth in B.C. have died after taking ecstasy, an average of 16 a year, Rudolph said. "Those are the ones that are dying, they're not just messed up."
The show is a docudrama which includes the story of Cheryl McCormack, an Abbotsford teen who died in 2011 after taking the drug, only three weeks after the ecstasy-related death of Tyler Miller, a 20-year-old from the same city.
The Mountain students' research taught them that ecstasy works by raising serotonin levels in the brain, which greatly improves mood and appetite and increases energy levels. When users come off it, their serotonin crashes and it can take from days to years to recover to proper levels of the brain chemical.
Grade 10 Mountain drama student Allegra Wright, 15, noted that many think people only die because of toxins used as fillers by unscrupulous ecstasy producers. But the fact is, "even pure ecstasy can kill you," she said. The drug affects people in different ways.
That's why the students named the show Russian Roulette.
The goal was to create a show for students that raises awareness of the issue without using scare tactics, Wright said.
Caverzan said, "We do address death as a possibility. One of the lines is, 'What are the chances it's going to happen to you?'"
So far the students have performed the show to schoolmates at Mountain and toured it to Burnaby North, Alpha and Central secondaries. The hope is to bring it to all Burnaby's high schools.
The show is generally followed by a question and answer session with a panel that includes local youth workers and Burnaby RCMP officers. The students have been pleased with the response so far.
Sometimes it's met with silence, Caverzan said, noting he's spoken to friends who said "they didn't want to say anything because they were scared." Another time, Wright was pleased to hear students outside in the hallway quoting lines from the show to each other.
The performance at Alpha was attended by the mother and sister of Cheryl McCormack.
"They were in tears, Cheryl's mom was speechless," recalled Caverzan. "They were blown away by it."
Rudolph said she's received numerous positive emails about the show. "For us we could feel it. You can feel when you have the audience."
In doing the project, she said her students are now well versed in the dangers of ecstasy.
"They're not going to sit back and let somebody do that. They're going to speak up."
• Russian Roulette: What are the Chances? is at Michael J. Fox Theatre,
7373 MacPherson Ave., Burnaby, on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 7 p.m. and will be followed by a question-and-answer period. Content is mature and for ages 12 and up. The performance is free and seats are first come, first seated. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line Russian Roulette.