I had planned to write this post much, much earlier in the week, but it has been such a busy week getting ready to open The Laramie Project. Many members of the Lyric Arts community have questioned our choice to open our season with this show and I wanted to take just a moment, before I slip on my opening night dress, to address those questions.
When Bob Neu (one of our two Resident Directors) brought this show to me as a possibility for our 2013-2014 season, I had to think long and hard about whether it was a good choice for this theater and for this community.
Let me preface this by saying that while I am not from Anoka, nor do I live here, I have grown to love this city over the last ten years. I have become a part of this community and Anoka feels much more like my hometown than the city in which I live, which is just a little ways south.
I was familiar with the play as it focuses on the death of Matthew Shepard and the conviction of his killers, but I needed to take the time to go back and re-read it, being mindful of questions like, “Why now? Why at Lyric Arts? Is any of this even relevant 15 years later?” As I worked my way through the script, I was struck by the similarities between Laramie, Wyoming, and Anoka, Minnesota…and not in the ways you might think.
In the script, one of the townspeople remarks that Laramie will forever be branded as the place where this tragedy occurred. There has been a lot of media attention focused on Anoka over the last 18 months or so, with regard to anti-bullying initiatives, the tragic death of some of our young people, and Anoka-Hennepin School District’s neutrality policy. When this story hit the national stage, Rolling Stone called Anoka a town that was at war with its own teens. Now, no matter what Anoka does in the next 15 years, this city will always be known as “that city.”
I find that to be tragic. My Anoka, the Anoka that I have come to love, is so much more than that.
For me, The Laramie Project is important for this community because it is as much about the town of Laramie in the aftermath of tragedy as it was about the tragedy itself. It is about a community made up of people with every possible viewpoint and how they find closure and healing in the wake of terrible events and about how something positive can come out of something negative. This play is not convenient fiction or a dramatization. This play is a live documentary; it is real life presented in the real words of the people in that community.
This play focuses on the death of a gay college student and has become known as a play that brings the struggles of the GLBT community to the forefront. But, without downplaying the horrifying tragedy of Matthew’s death, while re-reading the script 15 years later, in light of local and national conversations, this play is about so much more than that.
The Laramie Project is overwhelmingly and whole-heartedly anti-hate, anti-bullying, and anti-violence in all forms. It preaches a world view that encourages us to look upon one another with kindness, understanding, compassion, and acceptance, regardless of race, religion, sex, weight, age, and (yes) sexual orientation.
How could anybody disagree with that? And, what kind of world would we live in if we weren’t striving to be respectful of others, to love one another, no matter how different they might seem? That is what The Laramie Project challenges us to examine within our own hearts and minds.
So, “Why, now?” and “Why at Lyric Arts?” and “Why is this relevant?” Because it is simply the right thing to do.
I will freely admit that this show will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Lyric Arts works hard to offer something for everyone. And, if this is not the show for you, that’s okay. We completely understand, and hope that you will be just as excited to attend something in our season that is more to your liking.
But, if you are willing to be open minded and take a chance on something unfamiliar to you, you might just be surprised at how much you identify with the people you see on stage and just how moved you are by what they have to say. I know that I have been. And, I know I will be again this evening.
Laura Tahja Johnson
Managing Artistic Director