Out director disputes gay leader's comments on production of 'The Laramie Project' in Tyler

Trinity Wheeler
Trinity Wheeler

Yesterday I reported that a production of “The Laramie Project” scheduled for the Tyler Civic Theatre appeared to be in jeopardy yet again, according to Troy Carlyle, chair of Tyler Area Gays (Project TAG). But apparently there’s a difference of opinion even among supporters of the production as to what’s really happening — or at least, what should be happening. Not to start a Dallas-style bitchfest in East Texas, but it’s worth noting that Director Trinity Wheeler simply doesn’t agree with Carlyle’s assessments. Wheeler, a Tyler native who now lives and works in New York, is returning to his hometown to put on the show. Here’s Wheeler’s response to Carlyle’s comments:

“I have maintained from the beginning that ‘The Laramie Project’ is about an entire community dealing with the death of a young gay man in Laramie, WY. The play displays the power of community when people come together to deal with crisis and support each other through the healing process. While Project TAG’s initial intentions were to support the play financially, their response to recent events has divided the East Texas gay community. The true meaning of ‘The Laramie Project’ is acceptance across the spectrum of race, gender, religion, class, sexuality and creed. I feel strongly that Tyler Civic Theatre is the perfect venue for this production and the theater’s Board of Directors have been supportive since the re-approval vote last month. This is a learning process for everyone involved. The theater has never staged a production that has caused this much community debate in its entire history. There are members of the theater’s staff that have fears about this production, but I must respect those fears and work through them in a productive manner. In the end, everyone involved wants this play to happen.

—  John Wright

Production of 'The Laramie Project' planned for Tyler appears to be in jeopardy once more

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A few weeks ago we reported that the Tyler Civic Theatre’s board had voted a second time to allow a production of “The Laramie Project” at the theater in June. The second vote came after some members of the board, which had unanimously approved the production in March, received letters from citizens objecting to the play. After “The Laramie Project” was removed from the theater’s Web site, about 100 supporters rallied outside the theater while the board took its second vote. Now, despite that vote, it appears as though the production may be in jeopardy once more. Here’s an update I received Friday from Troy Carlyle, chair of Project TAG (Tyler Area Gays):

We’re having ongoing concerns with the [Tyler] Civic Theater, including the facts that they’ve waited 2 ½ weeks to put anything about the play back onto their website, removed it from the front page (now you have to click a link), removed the TAG (Tyler Area Gays) logo, and even removed the word “gay”! Further, they’re considering reneging on their agreement that TAG would share in the proceeds (even though we are underwriting the play and they are receiving half of the sale of each $20 ticket). And I haven’t mentioned concerns we’ve already resolved, such as interference with cast selection, and the fact that “The Laramie Project” was removed from the TCT website in the first place.

—  John Wright

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

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.

—  John Wright