Lessons From Laramie
On Wednesday, November 7, The Laramie Project is coming to Seaholm.
From 7:30 am to 10:15 am, students in grades ten through twelve will watch the play, following with a student-led discussion. First hour will start at 10:30 am and the rest of the day will be run with an abbreviated schedule.
“The play is basically dealing with the aftermath of a young man out of Wyoming who was relatively known as being openly gay in the town of Laramie,” Scott Craig, GSA and Diversity Club sponsor who is involved in the production said. “He led kind of a difficult existence but in the end he is actually killed by two men who pretended to be interested in him sexually but what they really wanted to do was take him out, they beat the crap out of him, and then they left him tied to a fence way out in the country side and he died of exposure. So he was literally bullied to death. He was beaten and left to die because he was gay.”
This young man’s name was Matthew Sheppard. Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie and conducted interviews with the people of his town. The play was made to follow the story after his murder and the town’s reaction to it.
Junior Shane McPartlin, who plays 6 roles in this play, is excited to take part in the production.
“I believe this play, although it is definitely not a comedy, still has a lot of great material to deliver,” McPartlin said. “It’s not really much of a story about homophobia as it is a story about how supposed hate crime and sensationalism of the story itself takes the innocence away from a small town in Wyoming. It’s almost more about the town itself rather than the crime.”
Another actor in the play, junior Ryan Glavin, believes this play really gives the audience something to think about.
“I like to do theatre work and it seemed like a fun endeavor to do,” said Glavin. “I’m indifferent to the fact but personally, four out of my five characters are homophobic people and you just get to see a lot of more points in the matter than you do just living in Birmingham.”
The play will only be shown to upperclassmen and the freshmen will partake in something different, according to Principal Dee Lancaster.
“We just decided we are doing tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades only for a couple reasons,” Principal Dee Lancaster said. “We will do something else with the ninth graders, with maybe something a little more maturity appropriate for them. Then we will do break out discussion groups for everyone afterwards.”
The goal of the discussions following the play is to facilitate communicating about the topic of bullying and accepting each other.
Ben Briere, director of the play, wants the discussion to feel relaxed and open.
“The purpose of the discussion afterwards is just to have a discussion. In a discussion, there is a risk that you will have people disagree and that’s really important,” he said. “To have a good community, you need people to be able to openly disagree and to openly discuss about their feelings. I think when you don’t talk about things, it makes it worse. If you just say the rule is that you can’t be homophobic, that wouldn’t work. People need to be able to talk about their feelings in an open forum but they need a real example because I think things like bullying get removed form our everyday lives and we don’t think it happens to us or we don’t think it will happen in our lives. But it is an everyday occurrence and it is good to remember that these things have context.”
Craig believes the play gives the students at Seaholm the opportunity to really listen and understand this nonfiction story.
“It will be dealing with the homophobia that frankly a lot of Seaholm students that have,” he said. “Particularly our male students probably more than the females. There is a lot of teasing and joking that goes on. There are a lot of comments made. A lot of students, I think, think that it’s funny. They don’t think it really has any serious consequences and this young man, Matthew Sheppard, he lived his whole life with the fact that he was bullied, teased, made fun of, ridiculed.”
Lancaster thinks the play would be useful to everyone.
“I think any school needs this, not just Seaholm. I think that any time that you can have discussions is good,” said Lancaster. “We’ve had our fair share of issues here at Seaholm the past couple years having to do with recognizing other people’s differences and respecting one another. We are taking a different look at diversity and who people are.”
This assembly is required but there is an opt-out option, however, which does not mean that students can just sleep in. It entails participating in an alternative activity conducted by Ann Deboer.
“There has to be that opt-out for people because even though the play takes place after the murder, but the premise is still that it was because he was gay and there certainly are some people who believe, for their own personal choice, that being homosexual is wrong,” said Lancaster. “So do I think there’s probably going to be some push back? Yes, I do. And that’s part of the reason why I have no interest in tackling the morality or immorality about him being gay. I don’t want to talk about that piece of it. I want to talk about respecting the fact that he was and that even though you don’t necessarily agree with who he was, that you still can respect him and love one another.”
Briere doesn’t feel the need to worry about the risk factor that comes with showing this play at Seaholm.
“I think every act of theatre is a risk. You are putting people on stage and either the audience is going to get it or they’re not,” Briere said. “And I think risk is good. It raises the stakes and it makes us ask was it worth it? And we wont know until afterwards. Did people get what we were going for? Is our school better because this play happened? I would like to have a positive impact. I want people to go, ‘wow, I really felt that.’ Whatever they felt, just that they really felt it,” Briere said. “If they feel anger, then feel anger. If they feel surprised, to feel surprised. If they feel happiness, to feel happiness. I want them to have an experience.”