Sunday, February 24, 2008

Laramie Project: Wow.

Tonight we saw a wonderful production of The Laramie Project presented here at Rapid City Central High School. It was very moving and honest performance, full of integrity.

Thomas B. Howard from the Matthew Shepard Foundation flew in from Denver this weekend to facilitate a panel discussion that included the actors and audience. This happened at two performances today, I caught the late performance.

Many thanks to cast and crew and the many supporters that made this possible. The play touched me deeply and really helped foster understanding on all sides of the issue.

It was great for me to hear from and get a chance to meet Mr. Howard. He's very much looking forward to coming back this summer with Judy Shepard.

I did get a chance to put in a plug for Equality South Dakota at the discussion, which seemed to me a bit "preaching to the choir" ... but clearly the play had a lot for everyone to ponder.

An actor told me that Bob Ellis of Dakota Voice was there, but it would be great if he could confirm that. It would be really interesting to know what he thought about it.


  1. Unfortunately your source was mistaken. I had hoped to attend one of the showings, but I was swamped beyond belief this week and unable to make any of them.

    So I can't provide any thoughts about the play itself, though I'm told from someone who did attend that it was very much like the HBO "Laramie Project" movie.

    If that was the case, then I'm sure it was a powerful piece of pro-homosexual propaganda. The movie did a great job of glossing over the immorality and health risks of homosexual behavior, while painting anyone who opposes homosexuality as ignorant, hate-filled Neanderthals. And it did so with great subtlety, which made it all the more impactful to the ignorant viewer.

  2. Thanks for clearing that up.

    The HBO special must have been different...

    Although Fred Phelps is portrayed (with his own words, and true to life if you've met him) as his true, spiritually destructive and ugly self, this wasn't my impression at all. As a matter of fact, all the words in the play are those of real people, real words, not "propaganda."

    There was a powerful scene where the wife of a state patrolman explains her frustration with the gay community painting Matthew Shepard, who she felt was a "barfly," as a "saint" with thousands around the world making him some sort of poster child. Her point of view was very well represented with compassion and understanding.

    I felt the play really did tell the truth. Everyone, where they were on the issues, was devastated by what happened in their town, and living in Rapid City the words of these residents of Laramie had a special resonance with the audience.

    One of the high-school actors said the play very much helped her understand and have more sensitivity to the views of those that consider homosexuality a sin against God.

    It was also pointed out that the play is about much more than the gay issue, in fact it doesn't visit the gay issue at all... it talks about how being different can get people killed and exploring why things like this happen at all.

    It's a shame you didn't make it.

  3. I have not seen the HBO version, but if I take your word for it, Bob, that it is full of pro-homosexual propaganda (even though I have heard differently), then the production I saw last night was quite different. I didn't sense that it promoted any kind of lifestyle other than one that does not teach hate - in any form toward any one.

    At the discussion after the show, I spoke up about how Justin Speck did such a great job in directing the actors to not over act their characters whom they agreed with, or to somehow turn their characters into monsters if they took exception to their characters' points of view. This was especially evident in the performances of those playing the young men who killed Matthew Shephard. I commented on how easy it is for most of us, who will never know the complete story, to have preconceived notions about so-called "gay-haters," especially those whose hatred has driven them to kill. But this production put a human face on each and every person, and suddenly, I felt a sense of empathy toward these boys and their families that I honestly hadn't felt before. That, I think, was the larger purpose of this production - to show that we are are all human, and that hate, regardless of which direction it is pointed, is a very ugly thing. The issue of homosexuality had very little to do with it.

    It is a shame that you missed it, Bob.

  4. I too was at last night's performance. I think it is the best piece of telling an amazingly important story that I have seen or heard. It was compelling, it was passionate. The power for me was in knowing that this story is told by the people who were involved, the people whose lives were forever changed by the murder of Matthew Shepherd. I was proud to be part of that audience. I was proud of the the people who participated in the production. One of the most important parts for me was that parents and children did this show together, what a powerful witness to mentorship, what a powerful witness to family.

  5. Those following this thread may be interested: Judy Shepard is coming to Rapid City to speak at the Shrine of Democracy, Mt Rushmore on Sat. July 12.

  6. If the issue of homosexuality had nothing to do with the play, then why does the homosexual community so ardently promote this play? If sympathy for a murder victim is the object of the play, why pick the murder of Matthew Shepard out of the thousands of murders each year? Are any of them less grievous, less heinous, or less wrong? And why are hate crime laws always pushed in association with the promotion of this play? Is murdering a white Christian heterosexual more morally acceptable?

  7. Bob,

    A discussion with you about the play would be a lot more productive if you had been there. Your concerns make it clear you don't know much about it.

    I sure don't know where you're coming from saying the "homosexual community" were strongly pushing this performance. The Centers and EqSD did not do any promotion of the event. Are you telling me the editorial board and staff of the RCJ (five or so articles--I wish they covered the Symphony or the school music groups like that!) is under the sway of the "gay agenda?" Maybe it's Dr Wharton (the RCAS Sup. of Schools), the School Board, the Central HS staff, or the Central drama parents that are behind this gay conspiracy?


    If you'd gone to see the play, or even watched the HBO DVD without taking notes, just watched, you would know that the play is not about sympathy for a murder victim. The play aims to tell the story of how the murder affected the entire community--a story that the media igored in its focus on the murderers and the victim. Bethany said how the play brought out compassion in her for the perpetrators of the crime, which frankly surprised me because she is pretty conservative on criminal justice issues.

    Hate crime legislation didn't even come up. Period. In fact, I am more undecided about that issue than I was before I saw the play.

    One more thing I'd like to share is that Laramie is a lot like Rapid City and a major reason it was such a great performance is because we live in a place very much like Laramie, Wyoming; this was very obvious in the opening few minutes of the play, in which Laramie residents talk about what it is like to live there. You could hear the whole audience nod and hum with agreement, we were all "there" with the story because it was about us. I think the play would have spoken to you as well, since you seem to love Rapid City for many of the same reasons I do. A DVD or even live performance of actors doing this with a New York City audience wouldn't have been half as possible, because we saw ourselves in the people (the real people) whose real words we heard on pondered on Saturday night.

  8. No connection between the Laramie Project and "hate crime" legislation, huh?

    From the Feb. 19 RCJ article: “ Taking an intense look at what crime and hate can do to a small rural community.” What murder has ever involved anything other than hate?

    From the same article: “The murder and the hate-crime accusations that surrounded it soon became national news.” Again acknowledging that the incident quickly became a vehicle for promoting hate crime legislation.

    Or this teacher’s guide developed to accompany the HBO “Laramie Project” movie: It’s pretty up front about wanting to fight “hate crimes” and “homophobia.” Again, care to point out any crimes that are motivated by love and concern for the victim?

    And homosexual groups, just as your and Michael Coats’ group has done here in Rapid City, rally around the Laramie Project wherever it is presented. In fact, many members of the group that interviewed Laramie residents for the development of this project were homosexuals. Do you really expect me to believe they had no interest in the legitimization of their lifestyle in pursuing this project?

    If the intent of this play was really about showing how a murder affects an entire community, there are thousands of people murdered every year, in towns big and small, and some even more heinously than Matthew Shepard was murdered. Why not do a play about the murder of Chester Allan Poage? His murder was pretty brutal, and it was right in our back yard. But it doesn’t carry the same politically correct value, does it?

    As I said in my original comment, you have to give the producers of this play credit for coming up with a powerful piece of work to intimidate people who believe homosexuality is wrong into submission. The social instinct runs strong, and in a subtle way, this production sends the very clear message that people who disagree with homosexuality are in the company of murderers like Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney. People don’t necessarily need it spelled out for them; in fact subtle messages like this one are usually the most powerful persuaders.

    From what I’ve been told from someone who was there, it was very similar to the HBO presentation, which offered the same interview scenes of Laramie residents by the people putting this play together, including the angels who stood in front of Fred Phelps (who is at best a parody of Christians). I can’t imagine the play being significantly different from the HBO presentation, which subtly but clearly illustrated to viewers where they would be associated if they disagreed with homosexuality.

  9. As I said before, Bob, it's too bad you weren't able to attend. It's easy to form opinions based on what others say to you and on the opinions you already have. But you sound rather obtuse and your comments (most of which have very little to do with the topic at hand) and accusations carry little weight when we all know you were not there to see it yourself.

    Perhaps you should quit while you're ahead and keep your opinions about this to yourself. You're not going to convince anyone here that you know more about this particular production, how it portrayed the town of Laramie, its townspeople and how they were affected by this particular murder, the bombardment of the media, etc., than we do. We were there, and you were not. End of story.

  10. Christopher23:54

    At the risk of casting my pearls before swine I'll try to address your most glaring mistakes. If you deem two consenting males engaged in sexual behavior to be immoral, that's your privilege, it does not however excuse the repugnant, beyond human comprehension abuse Matthew Sheppard (sp?) was subjected to. It doesn't excuse pretending to be gay to lure Matthew into a trap and however they perceived the alleged "pass" turning his skull into powder might have been a wee bit excessive. Sadly, Mr. Ellis, most of the folks who agree with you are also : "ignorant, hate-filled Neanderthals." People like you are the worst kind of cowards. You condone, perpetrate or incite this despicable sort of behavior but you would NEVER go after someone who could effectively fight back. If you REALLY want to improve the world, why don't you hunt down drug dealers, Neo-Nazis or gangsters? Or would that take actual courage? Members of the GLBT community try to enrich the world and make it a better place, while people like you diminish it.