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Play brings protests

Burroughs High’s production of ‘The Laramie Project’ draws backlash from Baptist church that is anti-gay.

May 31, 2008|By Alison Tully

The production of “The Laramie Project” put on by John Burroughs High School students on Friday night was met by a small protest at Burbank’s Colony Theatre.

A handful of members from the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, a vocal church group opposed to homosexuality, protested near the theater. Across from the Westboro protesters, about 30 supporters of the play gathered on the corner of Third Street and Cypress Avenue. They held signs and waved in appreciation to motorists, who honked horns in response.

Despite the protest — and months of difficulty trying to get their play produced — John Burroughs High students performed “The Laramie Project” to a sold-out audience at Burbank’s Colony Theatre on Thursday night.

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The cast had to scramble to find a place to premiere the show after school Principal Emilio Urioste felt the material was too controversial, student Adrian Butler said.

The play, written in 2000 by the Tectonic Theater Project, focuses on the reaction to the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was murdered in 1998.

The show’s characters and script are based on interviews with townspeople from Laramie, Wyo., that playwright Moises Kaufman and other theater members conducted.

“I feel it’s censorship and it’s repressive,” said Butler, a drama club member who has been significantly involved in getting the show produced. “Homophobia is something we deal with on a regular basis, and a show like this educates people how everyone deserves the same rights as everyone else.

Urioste reopened the school three weeks ago for students to rehearse. He did so to show a newfound support for the production.

“Life is about learning, and I think that certainly for me this was a moment to reflect and be touched by these talented kids,” he said. “I have been moved by the students’ passion for this project.”

Urioste is attending Friday night’s performance and plans to host a second production of the play next year, he said.

Students received an overwhelming amount of local and national support to put on the show.

The school’s Gay Straight Alliance won a $500 California Teachers Assistant Grant and the chance to perform in the Colony’s 246-seat theater free of charge.

Even five people from the Tectonic Theatre Company flew in this past week to help the performers, including head writer Leigh Fondakowski, the play’s co-director, Jeff Freeman, said.

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