Right Wing Protest Group To Picket Powerful Play

No, we’re not talking about The Admission this morning, or The Argument, or Yellow Face (or any of the thought-provoking fare on our schedule this season) — we’re talking about the landmark theatrical documentary drama, The Laramie Project, which will be picketed today by Westboro Baptist Church, a group you can read much more about via their inimitable website, http://www.godhatesfags.com.

Our Theater J student subscribers saw the Ford’s Theatre production with me last night. It’s a comprehensive, devastating portrait of a community, a murder, and a trial. It’s written by Moisés Kaufman and Members of the Tectonic Theater Project and because Ford’s Theatre is shuttered during the ongoing government shut down, the theater has relocated  performances  to First Congregational United Church of Christ just up the block. That’s where we took it the “scaled down” production last night, and you’ll read our very personal responses to the three-act drama in the Comments below.

But we’re alerted here by members of the Laramie Project cast that there will be an angel-action Unknown-4tonight to peacefully face-off against those who hate this play and, according to the Westboro Baptist Church press release, believe that The Laramie Project “was written by a fag for fags and is complete fiction. It is based on the fag lie that Matt Shepard’s murder was a hate crime because he was gay.”

Here’s the announcement coming from the cast:

Help us erase hate! The Westboro Baptist Church has announced their plan to picket in front of Ford’s this Friday, Oct. 11. Please join us for a peaceful counter-protest from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Following the protest, we will hold a special 7:30 p.m. performance of “The Laramie Project” at First Congregational; all proceeds will be donated to the Matthew Shepard Foundation. After the performance, join us for a free public candlelight vigil at 10:15 p.m. We hope you can be there for all or part of the night!
Photo: Help us erase hate! The Westboro Baptist Church has announced their plan to picket in front of Ford’s this Friday, Oct. 11. Please join us for a peaceful counter-protest from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Following the protest, we will hold a special 7:30 p.m. performance of “The Laramie Project” at First Congregational; all proceeds will be donated to the Matthew Shepard Foundation (http://bit.ly/GFzDK1). After the performance, join us for a free public candlelight vigil at 10:15 p.m. (http://bit.ly/GLzrts). We hope you can be there for all or part of the night!  [Photo by Scott Suchman.]

[Photo by Scott Suchman]

The memory of Matthew Shephard is being preserved by a drama. The protest of the play is being met by concerned artists and citizens who insist that haters not silence art.  Comments?

31 thoughts on “Right Wing Protest Group To Picket Powerful Play

  1. I can’t believe that the Westboro Baptist Church would say that this play “was written by a fag for fags and is complete fiction. It is based on the fag lie that Matt Sheppard’s murder was a hate crime because he was gay.” That’s interesting that this is complete fiction seeing as these same people denying the reality of the story were actually there picketing this exact murder. How can you possibly consider something to be completely fictional when the play even showcases their presence? I guess when you have enough justified hate you can truly become impermeable to reality, even when it includes you.

    I thought the Laramie project did a fantastic job of displaying the intricate system of views within the city of Laramie. It is very difficult for me to understand the city’s general views on homosexuality. I grew up in a place and a time that was very accepting of gay people. Most people were positive about homosexuality and even the most anti-gay people were still tolerant. The play does a fantastic job of allowing us to understand what it would mean to have anti-gay rhetoric be acceptable. It portrayed the town in a way that showed the characters as real people. Real people with goodness and badness in them like in all people. It was nice to see the perpetrators of the crime portrayed at people too, not just monsters like is it so often in the media.

    I think that’s the funny about history really. Is that we think that there is all this hate and all this terrible stuff and that its part of human nature. But this play showed numerous members of the town growing and learning tolerance and love. It showed how you can disagree with something a person does but not condemn them. It showed how pain can bring forth new beginnings and inspiration to become something greater. It showed how mercy can be found even in the darkest of times. It showed how you are never alone, even if there are no people around. It showed that taking responsibility starts with each individual. This play showed a transformation that the entire world could, and hopefully will, go through itself.

    • I thought that the protest was childish and a way to direct misplaced hatred on a group outside or beyond their boxed and jaded understanding. They ways in which the protest was carried out, is disrespectful—shameful. I mean I’m all for freedom of speech, however witnessing that protest was simply distasteful and inflammatory.
      My personal pains of it all, is that it will perpetuate a culture in their kids who will grow up being taught senseless hatred. It won’t teach them cultural sensitivity or respecting someone for what they want and who they want. It will teach them to condemn whoever is not in alignment with their views and beliefs. To me, it is cultural hegemony working at its best.

  2. As I watched The Laramie Project, I thought constantly about how much society’s view of the gay community has changed since Matthew Shepard’s murder in 1998. However, it’s also quite clear that many opinions haven’t changed, stereotypes haven’t disappeared, and discrimination based on sexual orientation is still an issue. The fact that someone is gay is no longer such a shock to the majority of society; instead, it is simply a fact of life. Events and businesses exist now strictly to serve the gay community, and gay characters star in popular television shows and movies. Being gay simply does not mean what it used to mean.

    However, religious institutions have been delayed in adjusting their messages to a new crowd. This depiction of churches is well portrayed in The Laramie Project, as multiple leaders of religious groups are interviewed to give their side of the story. Although these interviews are from over a decade ago, they are still relevant as religious institutions have missions and beliefs that cannot simply be altered to please every person. However, it is no longer a small group of people that identify with the gay community. There are now multiple support groups and organizations dedicated to the LGBTQ community and their straight allies. The discriminatory teachings of certain religious institutions no longer impact only gay people but also those who accept and support them.

    The discussion that followed the play focused on the importance of conversation and the many characteristics and feelings that surround sexual orientation. Three themes that are present throughout the performance are evil, courage, and mercy. Evil exists in The Laramie Project in the form of ignorance, in the acts of violence, and the spoken words of hatred. Courage appears in the greatest times of need, as Matthew’s strength and resilience inspired his community even long after his death. Mercy is present in the most difficult times, as the Shepard family finds the ability and strength to move beyond the desire for revenge.

  3. I found “The Laramie Project” quite interesting, but perhaps even more interesting to me was the venue in which it was hosted, along with the speaker in the post-show discussion. To explain, having already read extensively about Matthew Shepard’s murder, I knew many of the events that were referenced within the play, something that removed some of the drama from it for me, though I did nonetheless find the play as a whole to be exceptionally well done, from the fact that each actor played multiple parts to the shifting stage setups that were able to be put together so quickly and convincingly. Coming back to the point that I initially mentioned, I found the venue to be extremely interesting, as it merged two worlds that are often regarded as separate today, art and religion. Beyond this, I also found the fact that the church was willing to host the play to be intriguing, given the play’s often contentious subject matter, an idea that ties in with the priest who spoke of how organized religion should celebrate all sexual orientations after the play, something else that combines two areas that are often seen as opposed.

    Although I was familiar with the subject matter of the play prior to watching it (how could I not be?), I nevertheless found the approach that the production took interesting. Instead of focusing on the events leading up to Matthew’s murder, the play instead examined the repercussions that it brought about in the community, both on individual and citywide levels. I thought that this approach was incredibly effective in illustrating the radically differing opinions of people from all across the political and religious spectrums, as well as showing how such a brutal act can effect change in the way people think. Although there were other aspects of the play which I enjoyed as well, I felt that this multifaceted approach to the opinions of townspeople was overwhelmingly the strongest aspect of the play. In sum, I felt that “The Laramie Project” was an incredibly well put together play, particularly when considering the constraints that it was operating with, and, largely as a result of the venue in which it took place and the flexibility of all involved in making that happen, can honestly say that it continued to expand my understanding of the arts in D.C.

    • Like wise, I found the most effective part of the play (and perhaps part of the point of the play) was the skill the writers employed in delivering the reality of how tragedy affects a myriad of people. Though the change of venue, I imagine, had to have been stressful for the actors– I felt the starkness almost added to the effectiveness of the play. There were no props to focus on– only people, only their words. Tracking the way they changed; how the event affected their line of thinking. Reality is multifaceted and when an event such as this occurs, it is often hard to digest it. In many ways, I feel this play aided us in doing so.

  4. After viewing The Laramie Project this past Thursday at the Congregational United Church of Christ, paired with spending this semester in Washington D.C. apart from my family, close friends, and home campus, I began to contemplate what role vulnerability plays in the lives of young people. Many of the Theater J student subscribers, and most certainly me, are at an uncertain place in our lives, in the midst of internships, classes, and career choices. At his most fundamental essence, Matthew Shepard represented a vulnerability that connected with me despite his presence in the play being only via evocative memory. The way he was savagely beaten and the sparing of his murderer’s life should renew a humble appreciation of human dignity and its accompanying vulnerability in all of us.

    As the production certainly sparks some necessary soul-searching, it also challenges the widely perpetrated idea of America as a beacon of equality and freedom as the quintessential American town of Laramie serves as a microcosm for the country as residents lament in disbelief: “How could this happen here?”, all before the small Wyoming town became the epicenter of media coverage. The speed of which the American public has had to come to terms with homosexuality has been astonishing, with some additional persuasion yet to occur as indicated by our post-show discussion and the protests surrounding the production. Yet we continue to see that we cannot leave the rights of the minority to the majority through means like propositions and electoral referendums. Matt’s death has become a symbol of the violent consequences of deep-seated hate and an unpleasant reminder of progress left to make. Because the murder occurred in 1998, viewing the production today can serve as a personal and collective evaluation of our acceptance of homosexuality and advance the public dialogue to even further lengths rather than allowing various group and forces that to impede it.

  5. Having seen The Laramie Project once before, I had plenty of time to focus on more than just the immediate plot. This time around I focused more on the stage direction and the writing of the play, and while these are both crucial factors to the entire plot and feel of the play, I felt that I could focus on these two factors without getting completely lost as to what was going on in the play. The Laramie Project is set up in a way that if you’re not paying attention, you could easily lose track of what exactly is going on or you could miss an important account in the story of what happened to Matthew Shepard. This set-up is in no way a problem; it’s actually a big positive because it demands the audience to be captivated by what is going on. For this being my second time seeing The Laramie Project, I was nonetheless captivated, by the use of the new space due to the disgusting government shutdown, by the strong performances, and by the different perspectives written into the play. When thinking about all of these factors in the play, I couldn’t help but think of the overarching theme of ‘truth’ and who determines it. The fact that we were watching the play in a church due to bipartisan struggles in our pathetic government couldn’t have made the theme of truth more relevant. And the countless perspectives of Laramie residents portrayed in the play made me think about this idea of truth even more. In terms of religion, or government, or even the viewpoints of these Laramie residents, what is truth? And how do we the audience member (for example: at church, of US politics, and at the play) determine what is actually true? Of course these are questions I cannot completely answer but they arose as I watched The Laramie Project. Were all of the perspectives in the Laramie Project true? Should we believe all of them? In my opinion, probably not, but there is a sense of honesty and sincerity that makes us believe, that makes us willing to accept their perspectives as truths. I think these same questions can be raised for religion and politics as well, but I’m not going to go there. But it was honest performance of The Laramie Project in this very unique setting of a church that helped raise these important, and very relevant questions; questions that should always be considered in any setting.

    • Hey Adam, I think the church has taken quite a big step for showing the Laramie Project play. After the play ended, a few of us were talking about the statements the father of church made after the play. His standpoint on homosexuality was clear: homosexuality is not wrong, it is in fact good and we should promote better understanding and tolerance for those that are homosexual. It was a very bold and brave statement to make on behalf of the church. Even though Pope Francis has spoken out about homosexuality and affirmed that people should treat them with the same compassion and respect, he never confirmed that homosexual is good. But I am glad that the church (at least this church) has also opened up to be more accepting for all.

  6. The Laramie Project opened eyes, hearts and souls to the mission and cause. Without having the ideal location, lighting, and set-up, the play moved along as if the First Congressional United Church had been their original location. The production will be losing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the closing of the Ford Theater due to the childish government shutdown. Noticing their unfortunate situation, I believe the play did justice to the audience and to the issue. I truly felt the line from the doctor who treated both the perpetrator and the victim Matthew when describing the senseless brutality of it all saying, “ they were just kids, I wonder if this is how G-d looks down at us—kids.”
    At first, I thought that the character list would include Matthew and his killers. The characters, however, were based off of research, interviews, and personal accounts from friends and townsfolk. The audience became immersed into the differing perspectives and opinions of Laramie. Through others, we had the opportunity to see and hear how real people felt about the whole ordeal. That was Powerful.
    “Why did G-d destroy sodomy?” was one of the many draw-dropping signs used by anti-gay protestors on Friday, October 11th. They were directly across the street from the First Congressional United Church yelling, shouting, and condemning not only the counter protestors but the decease Matthew himself. A sign reading, “Judy sent Matthew strait to hell,” made one question the blinding hatred of inconsiderate humans trying to make a point. There are more ways to make a strong point without being utterly disrespectful—and disrespect was all the protest seemed to accomplish. As we all know, words are frail and weak, so the counter protestors did an amazing job exuding their dominant chants and rhetoric.
    I interviewed one of the protestors who had his 13-year-old son holding a sign. The man probably was in his early 40s or late 30s, White, ashy grey hair with a medium build. I will share our conversation:

    Kevin: “May I ask, what this protest is about? “
    Protestor: “Well the sign here says, why did g-d destroy sodomy? And we are here all the way from Kansas to stop gay propaganda that prizes and sanitizes homosexuality.”
    Kevin: “What are your views on the Civil Rights Movement?”
    Protestor: “The civil rights protest was a protected class of g-d. No were in the bible does it say to mistreat humans based on their immutable conditions. Your Black I’m White, that’s not going to change. The Civil Rights Movement was a justified and righteous cause, but homosexuality is a filthy sinful conduct. You are not born desiring to put your dick in another mans asshole. There are no immutable characteristics of homosexuality.”
    Silent pause.
    Protestor: “ the bible says thou shall not kill,”
    Kevin: “ What are your views on war and organizations like Planned Parenthood?”
    Protestor: “ I am anti-war, sending our kids away to die to fight in countries we have no business fighting in. And the womb business is g-ds business and should not be messed with. Planned Parenthood is satanic, no business spending tax payers money.”
    Kevin: “In your understandings, is there any redemption for it all?”
    Protestor: “ I don’t care if they were born that way, if it takes you cutting off your penis with a rusty blade to stop sin than do it. They ought to castrate themselves!”

    I was completely taken aback by his last statement although it was expected.
    For me, as an African American, I instantly remembered all of the horrifying stories of enslaved Africans being castrated, tortured, and killed do death simply because religious Europeans justified it by using the bible. The bible was a tool of oppression and justified brutality of millions, of countless generations of innocent mothers, fathers, and children. Blacks were not seen as people, they were not seen as human unless they converted to Christianity, and still deemed as less.
    Regardless of any views of religion, his last statement made me realize that their cause is sick, immoral, and unholy.

    • Kevin- Wow. I am literally disgusted by what the protestor you interviewed had to say. I cannot believe people who are so ignorant and delusional still exist. I personally value my faith and my relationship with God so very much. So it really angers me to hear how people manipulate the Bible and other religious texts to condemn other people and make them feel unworthy or less than human. Religion can be so positive for people, it seems antithetical to use it to spread hate. I also like how you compared this hate and condemnation of homosexuals with similar hate expressed towards Blacks. Religion was also used to justify slavery and to control those enslaved. It is another example of how religion is manipulated to control communities, and to ostracize those who dare not to conform to societal norms and mores. Truly sickening.

    • Kevin, like Asha I am repulsed by the comments of the protestor. I do commend you for going to the protest and especially for being so courageous and brazen to actually interact and have conversation with a protestor. I really agree with Asha’s point regarding how religion has been used as a means of ostracizing and condemning people. I know what the Bible says and implies regarding homosexuality, however I like to believe that God would not want bad things to happen to good people -regardless of color, creed or race.

    • After reading your conversation with the protestor, I really don’t know what to say. I mean, it’s appalling that we still see such strong hate and intolerance in the world, and it makes me feel like some people are lost causes. But, when I start to feel in despair or I feel a little hopeless, the only thing I can really say to myself to make things better is that without evil, you cannot truly appreciate the good.

      As much as we hate to see this kind of behavior–this reluctance towards change–we have to remember that we probably would not hold the principles of peace and tolerance as highly as we do if situations like this did not exist. People like that protestor give you reasons to unite with individuals around the world to make life better for the people next door. And I think that’s beautiful.

    • I had to read your interview a couple of times because I had a hard time believing that someone could have so much hatred toward people based on something they cannot change. I loved your comparison of LGBT rights to civil rights. It never occurred to me that people used to use the Bible to justify the persecution of Blacks (and I’m sure some people continue to do so), just as they use it today to persecute the LGBT community. As a Christian, I find it so hard to grasp that people can twist the words of the Bible to justify violence and hate. It makes me question how we eradicate such intense feelings of hate in our communities. I give you a lot of credit for speaking with the protestors, but it seems to me that simply speaking with people which such strong views won’t fix anything. How can we enlighten people who have hate so deeply rooted in their heart?

    • Kevin — Interesting to engage with the face of hate the way that you did. I had often wondered how these people could attempt to justify their disgusting message or what they would say when asked about different issues. Thanks for sharing your interaction with us. Although I wish I could say I surprised by these answers, I’ve come to understand that some people cannot be reasoned with or see past their own hate. Fortunately, this people exist on the very fringe of society, and (I believe) are becoming fewer and fewer every year.

    • People like that protester make the whole of Christianity look bad. As someone who was raised Christian, and stopped being a regular participant before fully realizing the many different branches with differing views, I thought that Christians in general were supposed to disapprove of homosexuality. I didn’t understand why, and it caused me to doubt the religion I grew up in. It didn’t make sense that we were being taught to love and to be good people, but we were also supposed to hate certain people for no real reason. That being said, I would encourage people to take the things this protester said with a grain of salt—yes, there are people close-minded enough to think and believe that “[homosexuals] ought to castrate themselves,” but as Dominique said, use that hate to think about all of the people who believe in equal rights and in a safe and loving place for everyone, no matter their race or sexual orientation.

    • It is so interesting to read your experience speaking with the protesters. Like everyone else, I was extremely intrigued and disgusted by the last statement. My first thought was to jump to our nations horrible history of eugenics. But then it occurred to me that most gay people are having sex with people of the same gender and therefore don’t reproduce. So I figured it can’t be the same idea of wanting to limit reproductive capabilities of minorities. I am still intrigued by the idea that there is such a link between sex and power. People try so hard to control other people’s sexuality. You see the media influencing the sexualities of women and perpetuating rape culture and patriarchy. You see the law trying to control the sexualities of young people through specifying if a person can consent based on age in a way that disregards legitimate sexual feelings. You see it in the education system keeping away vital information for safe sex. It seems that everywhere you turn someone or something is trying to control other people’s sexuality. The power dynamics that are embodied by this struggle for control over the most human of urges is intriguing.

  7. The Laramie Project was difficult for me to watch. What really hit home for me was when the actors were talking about Matthew. They were saying, “he was just a kid”. Five and a half weeks ago, my best friend’s sister passed away. At twenty-two years of age, she was just a kid too. While she was not a victim of a hate crime, she was a victim of violence. She was not a victim of physical violence; instead she suffered from the type of violence Father Roger Schmit discussed with the reporters in the play. Reflecting on what the priest said, our society is filled with all kinds of violence that most people do no characterize as violence. Violence is defined as a destructive force. It doesn’t have to be physical brutality; it can be verbal abuse or an unspoken norm. Before seeing the play, I never thought of violence in this way. I found it very enlightening to think of violence as something more then just physical harm.
    I really enjoyed the role of the Father Schmit in the play. It was refreshing to see a Catholic priest in the media with tolerance and compassion for a gay person because that not typically how Catholics are portrayed. Father Schmit reminded me of Pope Francis and the goodness that I see in the Catholic Church.
    Another aspect of the play I found fascinating was the idea of the magnitude of hate. I cannot seem to wrap my head around that idea that one group of people can hate another group so much that they are willing to risk death. As in the terms of the play, I find it hard to believe that there is such a large magnitude of hate in this world. It does not seem possible to me that someone could hate another person enough to beat them to death, especially someone they have never met before.
    Finally, I really enjoyed seeing the play in such an intimate setting. The absence of a set allowed me to focus on the acting and the emotions the actors were portraying. Sitting in the front row also helped in making the experience more authentic and personal.
    The Laramie Project is a beautiful production and it does an outstanding job of honoring Matthew.

    • Katy, thank you for sharing your personal story about your best friend’s sister. I am so sorry for your loss. It truly is unnerving to think that so much hatred exists toward a single group, especially regarding a characteristic that was not chosen and cannot be changed. I also found it interesting to look at violence as something that is not just physical. Violence is actually something that can tear the soul and destroy the mind without the use of physical weapons. Instead of weapons, it only takes words to impact someone’s life. The Laramie Project showed us violence in many forms, as Matthew encountered ridicule, discrimination, and ultimately death because people did not like who he was. Matthew never hurt any members of the community, but some people still viewed his as a threat.

    • Hi Katy – I agree entirely with the point that you brought up about the different kinds of violence that exists in our society. Like you I feel that it is incredibly important for us as a society, and even as a world, to begin to shift our conceptions of violence away from an outmoded, patriarchal centralization around physical force and to appreciate that there are many other ways that people can perpetuate violence on one another. Until we as a people accept the weight of our words and the impact, negative or otherwise, that they can have, I feel that there is only so far that we can progress socially, or politically even. I also found the acceptance, and encouragement, that the post-show speaker offered for the LGBT community to be refreshing as well, in addition to being quite interesting, as it provided us with a perspective of Catholicism, and by an extension of the religious community as a whole, that is seldom seen in American society.

  8. I found the Laramie Project to be unsurprisingly emotional, slightly painful, but amazing notwithstanding. Matthew seemed like such a sweet, genuine, loving person. It really hurt me to not only hear about the reason for his unjustifiable death, but to hear the violent and inhumane nature of his death. One thing in particular that struck me was one of the doctors who checked out both Matthew and Matthew’s murderer. He brought up an idea with which I had personally struggled while watching the play. The doctor felt sympathy for both Matthew and his aggressor. He compared his experience with that of God’s- when God looks down on his children and is able to love each of them even when they have sinned or done something immoral. I could not help but think of what might have happened to the boy who murdered Matthew. What cruelty must he have experienced in his life? To be brought to the point where you can violently kill another human being for their sexual preference, must a person have experienced the same sort of violence? Furthermore, Matthew was literally beaten do death and tied to a fence like an animal. It is one thing to murder someone from a distance—shoot them and run and never really hear their cries, moans, pleading for help, or see the pain in their face. But pounding someone with your fists requires a level of intimacy and subsequent numbness or disconnect with emotion. I did not quite feel sympathy for Matthew’s murderer, but perhaps sympathy for the cruelty he may have experienced in his life and thus inflicted on innocent Matthew. I truly hope he is resting peacefully.

    • Asha,

      I share in your disbelief of the level of cruelty and sheer disconnect with emotion that Matthew’s murderer displayed. It almost leaves you wondering if any additional circumstances were at play that night because it is almost impossible to come to terms with a fellow human being able to take another person’s life, just because they were gay. What also troubled me was the choice of the defense lawyer to claim that his client was acting out of “gay panic” rather than citing the amount of alcohol and possibly drugs consumed that night. Now how sad and shameful is it to think any normal human being or legal body would accept such a defense? The taboo stigma of being gay was furthered by the defense team of the murderer.

  9. While waiting for the play to begin I read the playbill which featured a statement from Matthew Shepards father. He described Matthew as being kind, emphathetic and as having an intrinsic yearning for making sure all people felt accepted regardless of race, gender or sexuality. Matthew’s father goes on to describe his deceased son as a martyr which I found particularly powerful. Mr Shepard believed that Matthew would be pleased to know that his horrific and unjust death was used to bring about national attention to hate crimes due to sexual orientation, forcing Americans to have conversation about homosexuality which is so taboo in our society. I am a firm believer that people who are homosexual are usually born that way -and there is nothing wrong with that. That said Matthew’s brutal death is just as obsence as a killing people due to their race, gender or other unchanging characteristics that are so inherent to the human being.

    I was so intrigued to hear all of the different perspectives from the people in Laramie, especially that of the Father of the Church. Homosexuality in religion, especially Catholicism is so readily condemned -seen as an abomination. To see a Father be so accepting of Matthew’s sexuality was refreshing, it separated Matthew’s humanity from religion, highlighting that regardless of his sexual orientation -that goes against the Catholic Church- Matthew was still a human. As such, Matthew’s death was inhumane. The acceptance from the Father also made Mr. Shepard’s labeling of Matthew as a martyr so powerful. A martyr’s heroism comes from the martyr’s death being linked to dying for their religious beliefs. Matthew’s sexual orientation did not necessarily coincide with the church which would warrant his death martyrdom, thus I found the irony of the term coupled with the acceptance by the Father to be interesting and stimulating.

  10. To be quite honest, I don’t know how I feel about “The Laramie Project.” I mean, I guess in general I wasn’t displeased, but I wasn’t overcome with relief either. Perhaps the reason has to do with the time period of this piece, which was mentioned afterwards during the post-show discussion. Or maybe some aspect of the play was outdated to me, I don’t know. All I’m saying is that I thought there was something that didn’t quite click for me. Now, all of this isn’t to say that I thought the play was bad or anything–quite the contrary! I thought the acting was great and really captivating despite the lack of props and space. Similarly, I thought the message was important; however, I just felt as though the message had, for lack of better words, lost it’s umpf. I mean, the tragic event on which this play is based occurred in 1998. Now, it’s 2013. With all of the progress that has taken place since Matthew’s death, it’s hard for me to really live in the moment that this play was trying to capture. Once again, perhaps it is because of something like my sexual orientation that prevents me from fully understanding the cultural impact of this event. Or, perhaps it was the environment where I grew up that makes it hard for me to really wrap my head around this play. By all accounts, I cannot figure out why I was not in love with it. Even so, I liked how it captured the different townsfolk from Laramie. The writers didn’t just talk to middle income, white collar individuals. Nor did they only speak with lesbian or gay men and women. They talked to everyone–they talked to Laramie, and that was something that I appreciated. I also liked how the writers captured the mixed feelings and emotions of the town. Some individuals were quoted saying that homosexuality was not an issue for them but that they could not condone the lifestyle of homosexual individuals. Others, such as some religious figures, made it a point to recognize Matthew despite their condemnation of his lifestyle choices. I also appreciated that aspect of the play. At the end of the day though, I don’t know whether I thought Laramie was the perfect town that some of the characters tried to describe it as, but, at the same time, I hardly believe it is an evil town either. All I can say is that from the overwhelming love and appreciation Matthew received after his death, I think that Laramie is definitely more good than evil–it’s just not perfect.

    • Dominique–

      I really like what you say about them talking to everyone, “they talked to Laramie.” I agree with this and I really like how this production chose to base the play off of personal interactions with people in Laramie, rather than the actual, first-hand occurrences of Matthew Shepard’s life. I thought that this gave a unique perspective to the play.

      Also, I was inclined to agree with you about the play losing its “umpf.” I too thought that this was a non-issue. I knew that people had a problem with gay marriage, but I did not know that people still had a problem with gay people in general. Maybe it is due to lack of exposure, probably due to both my location and my sexual orientation, thus it has never affected me or people around me. However, just last week I saw people holding disgusting signs about how “evil” homosexuality is and how “God hates homosexuals.” This honestly disgusted me, especially because it was during the 15th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death. I have realized that this is not a non-issue, but instead is still rather prevalent in our society, which completely disgusts me. Even 15 years after his death, this play is opening eyes to this issue. It certainly opened my eyes.

  11. At the end of the play the preacher of the church which so graciously hosted the production, after expressing positive sentiments toward the play and the LGBTQ community, commented on the possibility that the play might be showing how dated it was. Though I respect his words and I do agree great societal progress had been made, I disagree with the notion that this play felt dated. Perhaps part of this notion that the play is dated stems from the great feeling among my some members of my generation that social change happened with great speed—as if the entire society woke up one day and came to their senses. There is also a great optimism that this change will continue with great speed. Yet societal change, almost by definition, is a slow process which requires work and even maintenance. It is the product of countless protests and endless dedication; of better education and better understanding. Societal change may feel quick because the change grows, sometimes aided by stories such as the Laramie project (though everyone undoubtedly wishes such events would never happen) until it burgeons and bursts. Suddenly support is flooding through society—famous singers are lauded for writing songs or openly supporting the LGBTQ community, TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race are reaching incredible popularity, a cascade of states passed marriage equality laws in a relatively short span; the new Pope decided to openly dissuade members to cease pursuing a crusade of hatred; in Turkey, after members of the LGBT movement claimed the current revolution, stairs painted in rainbow colors can be found in many places; and, openly LGBT publications are found in Egypt (among other countries).
    While most people agree that great progress has been made, many will also note that there is a great deal of progress to be made and the Laramie project still has a part in it — if for no other reason than to remind us of our own tendency for finding pitfalls and to remind us of the progress that we have made. Growing up in a small, conservative town I saw a lot of my region reflected in that play. Certainly, torture of this kind would be unthinkable in my town (but wasn’t it so in Laramie); however, there’s a general discomfort about members of the LGBTQ community. There are still parents who refuse to see their children after coming out and there are still comments of hating the sin and not the sin. My town could have been Laramie. Any town could have been. That is part of the tragedy these events.
    Lately I’ve been pondering what makes a good play. In the context of the Laramie play, a piece which is meant to depict reality without embellishment or the use of a fictional story, one of the interviewees highlighted the importance of truth in telling this story. A rather tall order: how does one portray the truth of events, much less the truth of people and their character? This truth isn’t simply important in preserving the reality of what happened; in preserving the history, but it is also important in ensuring the audience understands fully what happened. Though the Laramie project offers a somber sense of reality, the play also showed change in some of the characters and following that progress allowed us to understand why and how their views changed. So, in many ways, the Laramie Project did an excellent job of capturing the truth of the complexity of human thought and emotion; the process of grieving; and, perhaps, more importantly the possibility of change. As one of the characters said in the play, it all revolves around hope and while a remembrance of the past can be a great motivator, hope and determination for change is what change hinges on.

  12. The Laramie Project is a very compelling and moving play about a difficult and sensitive subject: hate crime. The director took an interesting approach by portraying the story in an interview style of the people of Laramie, including those who were directly involved. The setup of the stage was very simple. There weren’t many props apart from a table and a few chairs. All actors had to multitask and act out different characters with contrasting personalities and different stands on the situation. The play was almost like a reading, yet the simplicity accentuates the powerful and honest portrayal of the details and impact of Matthew’s death.

    Matthew’s death had a deeply personal and complex effect on the people of Laramie. Through the play, I saw the fear, hate, courage, compassion and hope felt by the residents. The interview with the police woman who contracted HIV was very touching. She was infected because she had contact with Matthew’s blood which contained HIV so she had to go through strenuous treatment to overcome the virus. But through the process she did not feel bitter and she never blamed Matthew. Like many others, she was hopeful for the recovery of both Matthew and herself.

    On the other hand, some residents refused to acknowledge that the significance of the incident and they questioned the challenges the validity of the hate crime. One memorable scene was when the police sergeant refused to talk about the details of Matthew but instead, he only wanted to talk about the beauty of Wyoming’s landscape. It is ironic that he claimed everyone who focused on investigating the crime is “just missing the point” as they are neglecting the beauty of Wyoming. But it was quite obvious for the audience to see that he was in fact missing the point. He does not want to admit that something is wrong in his hometown. His pride for his hometown prevented him from recognizing that Matthew’s death is significant and that hate crimes should be taken seriously. It was shocking to see that even the authoritative gatekeepers of justice can be biased. It was also interesting to witness the extent of ignorance some Laramie residents would show to “protect” their town from becoming stigmatized with being homophobic. After all, who would want their town be associated with something so negative like a murder and hate crime. Who would want to admit that the people they live with are criminals?

  13. The Laramie Project focuses not so much on the murder of Matthew Shepard, but on the town’s reaction to the brutal and senseless crime. By having each member of the cast take on 4-5 roles of different characters and people, I felt like I was getting a genuine and complete synthesis of how Laramie felt and responded. We saw commentary from everyone ranging from bigoted preachers, gay members of the community, and the everyday student who wasn’t sure what to make of the news.

    I found it interesting how one thing that everyone in the town could agree on was how they felt smothered when the national media “descended” upon the town to make an example of Matthew. This created confusion and a little bit of cognitive dissonance for the residents of Laramie. Everyone from the Sheriff at the very beginning of play who described the beauty of the mountains to social workers who defended Laramie felt that the media was missing something about the town, portraying it completely one-dimensionally when in fact Laramie is a surprisingly diverse place; a town that resists being labeled as the town where the brutal murder occurred. As one character put it, “Laramie isn’t the kind of town where this kind of thing happens…but it did.” This sentiment seemed to sum of up the confused and disturbed reaction from the town.

    One encouraging theme from The Laramie Project was the town’s evolution on their views towards equality and gay rights. While it is true that not everyone was completely open-minded about different people’s lifestyles by the end of the play, a discernable shift had occurred in Laramie, a shift towards acceptance. While The Laramie Project depicts a tragic incident and has many moments that might bring tears to your eyes (like the speech from Matthew’s father), I believe that the ending of the play strikes a note of optimism for the future. This optimism given from this play is coupled with the optimism I have for the future of equality in America—while things are far from perfect and the LGBT movement has many goals still to accomplish, great strides have been made since 1998 and I believe more are coming in the future.

    • Devin, I really agreed with your last paragraph, that there was a shift toward acceptance of the person even if the person’s lifestyle was not agreed with. This is something we must strive toward in all cases where someone’s lifestyle differs from our own and not allow that difference to affect the way we care for them, give our time and resources to them, and love them altogether. How would our world be different if we knew the people around us intimately and yet provided them care equally regardless of the baggage they carry? I think the more natural instinct is to treat people differently based on the money they make, the neighborhood they come from, the school they attend, their spiritual backgrounds, or, in this case, their sexual orientation. What if these were all parts of our identities, but they did not affect the way others responded to us? Eliminating bias is something I want to strive for in every aspect of my life.

  14. One of the most telling lines in The Laramie Project, written by Moises Kaufman, was when the doctor said, “They were both just kids… and I felt a great deal of compassion. For both of them.” In my opinion, this line and the fact that the doctor was treating both Matthew Shepard and Aaron McKinney at the same time is representative of how similar these two boys once were. At one point, they were both just innocent children with the entire world in front of them.

    I have done a lot of volunteer work with underserved youth and the one constant that I find at each place that I visit is that all of the kids are rather similar. They are excitable, kind, intelligent, witty, and above all innocent. However, I know that many of these kids will grow up to become a product of their surroundings, likely ending up in jail at some point. There is a quote by Nelson Mandela that reads, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate.” I believe that Aaron McKinney fell victim to hate. I think that all of the people that had negative things to say about Matthew Shepherd, both in 1998 and now in 2013 marking the 15th anniversary of his death fall victim to this. Hate must be taught, cultivated, and fed. At one point, Aaron McKinney was just a child, a blank slate with the entire world ahead of him, yet hate is what he learned.

    The Laramie Project is an emotional portrayal of The Tectonic Theatre Project’s time while spent in Laramie, Wyoming. The entire play is made up of interviews or trials. One thing from these interviews that really struck me was how pure each person thought their town was. They honestly believed that there was no way that this type of attack could happen in their home. I believe that this play shows that hatred can be discovered and fostered anywhere and anytime, so long as we feed it more than we feed our compassion.

  15. Of the plays we have seen thus far, The Laramie Project for me was the most realistic, relatable, and overall the most well-done. Not only was the acting spectacular, but knowing that the stories told were real testimonies following Matthew Shepherd’s murder made the play painful, yet engaging.

    Like Khayla, the scene that stood out the most to me was the emergency room doctor’s retelling of the night Matthew was brought in. Both boys, in their weakest state, were not treated based on the way they looked, where they grew up, their sexual orientation, or even what they had done. That was perhaps what was the most spectacular–Aaron McKinney was still provided treatment at the hospital, necessary treatment to preserve his health and well-being, without consideration of the crime he had committed. Though some may not agree with providing care to this young man, I thought it was a beautiful picture of grace–undeserved favor–in taking care of a person no matter what he or she has done.

    In a sense, that was also what Mr. Shepherd provided to McKinney in allowing him to live. I wonder what thoughts ran through Aaron’s mind in the months and years following this trial, and even now, 15 years later. I wonder what this act of grace did in his heart and in his life, and what he would say if he were interviewed now about what he did–if his words, so full of hate 15 years ago, would now be filled with kindness and care for those around him. The grace given by Mr. Shepherd was a powerful step in encouraging change not only in this young man’s heart, but potentially in the hearts of others that are clouded by hate. This play was successful if even just one person’s heart was transformed simply to see the damaging effects of powerful hate.

  16. “The Laramie Project,” produced by Ford Theater but performed at the First Congregational Church, was powerful and painful, and made me think a lot. The play is prefaced by the anti-gay hate crime on Matthew Shepard, and continues with everything that happened afterwards. It did a great job of portraying the many different views of the people in town, although it seemed to me that most of them was disapproving of the homosexual lifestyle, but left them alone. A few of the citizens had very hateful things to say about gays, and were taught by their religion (Christianity) to condemn both the people themselves and their actions. As someone who grew up Christian, hearing these views made me uncomfortable and made me remember the reasons I began to back away from it, because I felt that I didn’t believe the things I was supposed to. However, this was when I was younger and didn’t quite understand the differences among the different branches of Christianity. I was never taught specifically that homosexuality should be looked down upon, I just associated it with the religion in general, but it seems as though many of the citizens of Laramie were taught that specifically.

    It was extremely refreshing to hear the few citizens, such as the Catholic priest, who not only supported the homosexual lifestyle, but also the people themselves. This was exemplified with the post-show discussion with Dean Gary Hall from the National Cathedral, who mentioned that the play is a little outdated. For the most part, it only displayed the extremely conservative and the neutral views, but very little of the liberal, where the church accepts gays and tries to make the church a safe place them. This is probably due to the change in times, but the fact that Christianity has finally taken on a more liberal stance on sexuality gives me hope.

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