LHS theater takes on homophobia with 'Laramie Project'
By Gladys Gitau
photos by Roberta Delilo
The Lawrence High School Drama Company has a found a new purpose to perform theater.
With their latest production of “The Laramie Project,” opening Thursday, they are continuing a series of plays that tackle social justice issues, this time hate crimes and homophobia.
“It’s not fair to bully anyone,” says Eduardo DeJesus, 18. “You’re not letting them live the life that they have the right to live.”
After last year’s student favorite, “The Circle Game,” a play about the vicious life circle of inner city kids, director and drama teacher Matthew Evangelista hopes that this play about the murder of a gay college student in Laramie, Wyo., will educate audiences about tolerance and acceptance.
“After ‘Circle Game’, we wanted to do more theater with a mission, not just for entertainment,” Evangelista said. “So we drew up a new mission statement dedicated to raising awareness for social issues.”
“The Laramie Project” was written by members of the Tectonic Theater Project after University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was killed in 1998, in a hate because of his homosexuality.
The play was written based on interviews of people in the town, as well as news reports. It is performed in monologues that cover more than 60 non-fiction characters, on both sides of the issue.
“It’s an ensemble show,” said 18-year-old Caitlin Kennedy, an actress in the show. “There’s no lead, no character that’s more important than the other.”
But Kennedy thinks the issue being presented is one that needs more attention.
“People have become lax about gay rights, because they think it’s a no longer an issue,” she said Her cast mate, openly gay senior Brian DePena, stresses the importance of ‘Laramie’ in Lawrence.
“I feel like homosexuality is (over)looked in Lawrence, and in urban cities in general. This is a foundation for people to be educated,” DePena said.
The theater company has already faced opposition to the production earlier in the school year when Evangelista presented the idea to the Lawrence School Committee, and several members, including Mayor Willie Lantigua, voted that it not be performed. “It’s not just about the gay community, the play is about anybody who has been discriminated against,” DePena said.
Before rehearsal, Evangelista has the students in the production participate in an exercise called Identity. Everyone stands in a circle and they take turns making statements starting with “I am.” Whoever identifies with the statements also takes a step inside the circle.
“It makes us comfortable,” says junior Luisa Jimenez, 16. “We learn that we have bit of ourselves in each other, and we might as well all accept each other, because we’re all the same,” she said.
Later on this year, the company hopes to put on “Hairspray,” a classic musical that also deals with the issue of race.
Evangelista is working on writing two more plays on social justice as well, one on women’s issues, and another on prison violence. He would like to publish them in a collection called “The Circle Game Series.”
“That’s what we’re working towards for the next two to three years,” he said.
If you go What: “Laramie Project” When: Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. Where: Lawrence High School How much: Tickets are $5.