At 7:30 a.m. on Monday—the approximate time of the first two shootings in the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech—students, faculty, and others gathered at Santa Clara University, in California, as part of an unusual tribute to the victims of the deadly rampage five years ago.

The daybreak event commemorated the 32 lives claimed by a gunman five years ago through the performance of a play called What a Stranger May Know, by Erik Ehn, director of playwriting and a professor of theater at Brown University.

The play is a suite of 90-minute monologues, delivered simultaneously by performers spread across an open space, with each actor reciting a script about one of the victims. The texts, drawn from public records and collected from their family members, give viewers "a surprisingly holistic sense of the person—their character, their interests, what their plans were for the future," says Kristin Kusanovich, co-director of the Santa Clara performance. Visitors can wander through the scenes or stay with one drama as the stories unfold.

The tribute was mirrored in similar performances on nearly two dozen other campuses across the country.