Anti-gay fears threaten production of 'The Laramie Project' planned for East Texas

Posted on 09 Apr 2010 at 11:52am

Another day, another example of anti-gay bigotry threatening artistic expression in Texas. Actually, this is the second one today, but who’s counting?

Troy Carlyle, chair of Tyler Area Gays (Project TAG), reports that a production of “The Laramie Project” — a play about the hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard — is now in jeopardy due to homophobic backlash in the East Texas city.

According to a press release from Carlyle, the Board of Directors at the Tyler Civic Theatre voted unanimously in March to approve the production of “The Laramie Project.” Auditions have been held and actors assembled. The production, a joint venture between Project TAG and the theater, is scheduled to open on June 17 and play for three performances.

But in response to “letters of concern to the theater from Tyler citizens,” some board members are withdrawing their support, and a second vote reportedly will be taken April 13. Director Trinity Wheeler was among those made aware Thursday that one of the board members called the theater’s Web master and had him remove the production information from the Web site.

“The goal of ‘The Laramie Project’ is to promote thoughtful discussion and give audiences the opportunity to hear from a wide variety of Laramie residents and those most associated with the murder of Matthew Shepard. The move by these board members to cancel the production is ironic, since it demonstrates the need for the exact kind of education that is provided in the play,” Wheeler said. “I grew up in Tyler and am very excited to bring this production to East Texas. The play examines crimes of hate. The Tyler community experienced a hate crime in 1993 with the murder of Nicholas West, the gay man that was taken from Bergfeld park and shot numerous times. ‘The Laramie Project’ is about a community coming together and healing as a group in the same way Tyler did after the West murder. The James Byrd, Jr. murder in Jasper is another example of senseless hate and a community coming together to heal.”

Even if the Tyler Civil Theatre won’t stage it, Wheeler vowed that the show will go on. He says there’s a lot of excitement about the production, and a week-old Facebook page already has 322 fans.

“On June 17, there will be a production of ‘The Laramie Project’ in Tyler. We are currently regrouping with the cast, staff and Project TAG. I would still like to present this production at Tyler Civic Theatre because this is the theatre where I grew up. With that said, a cancellation decision by the Board of Directors will not stop this production. The opinions of a few people in the community have made cowards of a select number of board members and by withdrawing their unanimous approval of this production they are allowing the opinions of a few to affect the community as a whole. People want this production to happen.”

The Facebook page is encouraging supporters of the play to gather outside the board meeting at 5:30 p.m. next Tuesday and to e-mail their concerns to the theater at info@tylercivictheatre.com.

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