Arts Bring Healing After Tragedy in ‘Midsummer in Newtown’

A new documentary shows how a children’s play helped the people of Newtown, Connecticut, find solace and a sense of community after a disturbed gunman slaughtered 20 first-graders and six educators in their town four years ago.

Midsummer in Newtown, which opens Friday in U.S. theaters, follows the young actors from their first auditions to opening night as Michael Unger, a New York freelance theater director, and his team ushered them through a pop/rock adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

“It was a way of using art to try to find meaning in places where these children were a little shell-shocked,” said the film’s director, Lloyd Kramer. “It bonded them through the play.”

Many of the children in the play had been in Sandy Hook Elementary School during the shooting. “He [Unger] thought the play would be an opportunity for them to do something that was the antidote” to what had happened to them, Kramer said.

Through the play, the children regain their confidence, blossom in their roles, and share a sense of fun and hope.

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The film focuses on two students, Tain Gregory and Sammy Vertucci, and parents Jimmy Greene and Nelba Marquez-Greene, whose daughter, Ana, was slain in the shooting. Gregory lost one of his best friends, and Vertucci also knew someone who was killed.

Although the shooting is an underlying current in the documentary, which was filmed more than a year after the tragedy, Kramer does not concentrate on the event.

“It is there because you need to have context, and what makes people even more inclined to cheer on these kids is that they faced this horror,” he said. “We were very careful to put that in balance with the main story, which is what they are doing about it.”

Greene, a jazz saxophonist who performs in the film, found comfort in his music and the Grammy-nominated album Beautiful Life that he recorded in honor of his daughter’s life.

For Kramer, Greene’s comments in the film sum it up most succinctly.

“You can’t choose what happens to you in this life,” Greene said, “but you can choose how to respond to it.”