Suzette Valle is a Lifestyle blogger at http://www.MamarazziKnowsBest.com. She also regularly contributes Hollyblogs focusing on the entertainment industry to www.TheWrap.com, an online Hollywood news publication. She lives in Coronado with her husband and daughter after she reluctantly sent off her eldest son to Purdue Univeristy this year.
"Research for the The Laramie Project, Moisés Kaufman's internationally successful play, began one month after a horrific crime occurred in the city of Laramie, Wyoming. Members of Kaufman's theatrical group, Tectonic Theater Project, volunteered to travel with their director from New York City to the wide-open ranges of the West in order to gather in-person interviews from Laramie's populace. The idea was to capture the emotions, reflections, and reactions of the people who were most closely related to the crime—a brutal beating and subsequent death of a young college student. Kaufman's objective was to learn through the town folks' raw responses how the issues of homosexuality, religion, class, economics, education, and non-traditional lifestyles were reflected through this crime. How did this crime define the culture, not just of this Western town, but of the entire United States?
In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a twenty-one-year-old gay student registered at the University of Wyoming, was tied to a cattle fence, beaten about the head, robbed, and left to die on a bitterly cold night in October. Eighteen hours later, he was accidentally discovered by a biker, who had trouble believing that the figure he saw attached to the fence was human. Police and ambulances were dispatched, and Shepard was taken to a local hospital; but this was all done to no avail. Shepard was beyond recovery. Two local young men were charged with the crime.
The play is based on over 200 interviews with about 100 Laramie residents, as well as journal entries from the members of Tectonic Theater Project and Kaufman, as they reflect on their own reactions to the crime and to the interviews they carried out. It is structured as if it were a documentary as it attempts to re-enact the events that occurred on that fateful night."~ Novelguide.com
Coronado High School brings The Laramie Project to our local stage, a play about how a violent hate crime brought an otherwise sleepy town to the forefront of national news, and it's unsuspecting citizens are made to come to grips with the kind of people that inhabit their seemingly friendly town of 26,000 people. The powerful docudrama delivers an unequivocal message of tolerance -- one which will hopefully transcend into our local community and opens our eyes to the antiquated beliefs that still separate many of us from our neighbors.
The Laramie Project could not have come to our city of 22,000 at a better time -- it's relevant and timely. In the last couple of years, we've heard of far too many suicides committed by kids across this country who felt unaccepted by their peers. This correlation is unavoidable, and it serves to illustrate how we as a society have not progressed since the young college student, Mathew Shepard, was beaten to a pulp for being gay over 11 years ago.
"Do it right. You know. Make sure it's correct". Roger Smith, Catholic priest in Laramie, Wyoming who held a vigil as Mathew Shepard lay dying in the hospital. He is disappointed when other ministers in the town will not become involved.
Sitting at the Coronado Center for Performing Arts opening weekend, I had to remind myself I was watching a high school play. Several times, in fact. The actors' ranged from an 8th grader to seniors in high school portraying both adults and students throughout the two and a half hour docu-play. The seamless transitions in and out of the approximately 86 characters played by 22 students were flawless. Directed by Kim Strassburger, each impersonation was able to keep my emotions in step with their character, and then just as quickly convince my subconscious that I was now watching an entirely different person with their own personality -- simply stunning. The powerful scenes and dialog are not the usual fare served up in a high school production.
I also had to remind myself of the fact that we live on an island which at times seems to have remained stuck in time. Time that should have been taken up bringing up a different sort of person. "We don't grow children like that here" is a striking statement taken straight from the mouth of a Laramie resident back in 1998-99. After listening to the thoughts and opinions of the Laramie citizens who were interviewed for this play, it becomes evident not only to them, but to us, the audience, that "we do grow children like that here," too. They may not kidnap a student, tie him up and beat him to death, but in more subtle ways many still ostracize and marginalize their peers by their exclusive behaviors and intolerance of the different races and lifestyles present on this campus and community.
Hate, prejudice and narrow-mindedness are still alive in some homes in this tiny slice of paradise. This is evident to the district and school administrators, and more obvious among the students themselves who treat each other with condescension here. So much so that our Superintendent armed with courage decided not just to bring the story of Laramie to Coronado, but made it mandatory for the students to watch.
Someone posted this entry on Wikipedia under the heading for The Laramie Project:
"Productions involving high-school students have generated controversy.
A performance is going to be put on out in Coronado, CA with a combination of students from Coronado High School (CHS), Coronado Middle School (CMS), Palm Academy, and the Coronado School of Arts (CoSA). The plans to put on this play reached the superintendent of Coronado Schools who was excited enough to make it mandatory for all Coronado High School, and some students from Palm, to see it. The new views brought to the "island", as they like to call Coronado, will be controversial but "well worth the effort", says one of the English teachers at CHS. The performance has a large support network."
If you live in or near Coronado, CA, make time to go watch this performance next weekend, January 14th and 15th. If not for yourself do it for the next generation. This play will move you, and make you take a look inside yourself in search of the very root of what caused this hateful crime to occur in the first place...and the ones still happening today. How do we not grow kids like this?
I applaud the educators, administrators and parents who bravely present this project. And I mean brave in its purest form in light of the nut jobs who have stated they'd be showing up to protest against this play! The same Baptist Minister (Westboro Baptist Church), Mr. Phelps, who picketed the victim's funeral has listed Coronado High School's performance on his picket schedule. Our pretty, quiet town might see the ugliness taking a stand can spur.
Support the Coronado Unified School District's efforts to eradicate the boundaries that flagrantly exist among our kids, friends and in our community. Nurture more than a "live and let live" attitude, show them how it's done.
UPDATE: Protest has been cancelled. Read more.