Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Laramie Project in York

My alma mater York Surburban Senior High in York, PA staged the play "The Laramie Project" last weekend as part of a series on tolerance. What makes this story newsworthy is that a bunch of actual intolerant people from Kansas actually came to exciting York, PA to actually protest the play. While YSH has graduated such dramatic talent as Craig Sheffer aka Hardy from Some Kind of Wonderful, Mattew Faber aka Mark Weiner from Welcome to the Dollhouse and, of course, myself, I have no idea how this became a national issue outside a small high school from York. For the record, the director Mr. Lajkowicz would not cast me in the lead part of Flower Drum Song because he didn't like the way I "moved" although I played the conciliatory role of a maid where I got to bang a gong like nobody's business. I did have a comeback the next year where I kicked ass as Ado Annie in Oklahoma. Both of these shows did not attract picketers although Flower Drum Song should have considering we had no more than 5 Asian kids in our class and only one in the musical. The rest of wore wigs and actual cardboard cutouts to make us look more "Oriental." In any case, I'm proud my small public high school continues to educate kids about diversity and acceptance.
Feb 8, 2007 — The students stood on the stage of York Suburban High School Wednesday night and chatted with each other, giggling and smiling.
They were preparing to rehearse "The Laramie Project," the play they will perform tonight and Saturday. The play deals with the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard near Laramie, Wyo. The school's drama club picked diversity as a theme this year, and chose three plays that fit the theme.

This choice has drawn controversy after Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, announced its plan to picket the play's Saturday performance. Church member Shirley Phelps-Roper, who is also the daughter of Westboro pastor Fred Phelps, has said the play promotes homosexuality and an acceptance of the "sinful" lifestyle.

Students said they have received an outpouring of response from their peers and the community, more than for any other play they have produced.

"People we didn't expect to say anything have offered their support," said Brittany Vaught, 16.

Members of the drama club expressed pride in the play's message.

"It's not promoting any type of lifestyle," said A.J. Galiardi. "It says hate is out there, and it won't be tolerated."

Liz Leavens, 14, said, "The theme is accepting diversity and getting to know different lifestyles out there."

Paul Lajkowicz, the drama club advisor and play's director, cited a line from the play that talks about how all murders are hate crimes.

"This is just another example of how murders occur for a variety of reasons," he said.

Lajkowicz said he took a graduate course on violence in classrooms. He wanted to take something back to York Suburban that he learned in the class. His idea was to do a series of plays on diversity. "The Laramie Project" fit into that theme.

He said he was surprised at the controversy but said it has been a learning experience for the students.

"The kids have become so energized," he said.

He added that often students in high school don't read newspapers or keep up on current events. But with Westboro's imminent arrival, Lajkowicz said, the students have become more media savvy.

"This has made them aware of the power of the media," he said.

Lajkowicz said school officials held meetings with students and parents informing them of what might take place Saturday. They were told to ignore the picketers and continue the production.

"We are taking the moral high ground," he said. "We're a class act."

Laura Trice, 16, said that she plans to ignore the picketers and that she is not worried about her safety.

"I trust the school to take care of security," she said.

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