13 October 2009

How do you construct your history?

Last night I want to see The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. It was an experience that was both moving and surreal. I was not in Laramie when Matthew Shepard was killed. I was one of two students from Wyoming at a small, Catholic college in Ohio. I spent weeks saying that is not what we are like in Wyoming, not everyone hates and for sure, not everyone is murderous. It was a frustrating experience, because I knew that the small Ohio town I was in was not anymore “ok” with gay people than the state they were vilifying, the small Catholic college was not “ok” with gay people either.

When I moved to Laramie, long before I met, became friends with people who knew the man, the effects of the tragedy of Matthew Shepard’s death were apparent. Hate was not ok – in certain pockets of safe space - but it was not always silent, either. The “it’s time to move on” contingent was already making noises in 2001. It’s time to move on – without passing legislation that prevents hate crimes, without educating people about this type of violence, without facing the fact that prejudice lives among us – it’s time to move on. This voice was balanced, partially, by non-violence pledges and candlelight vigils, but even just a few years after, it was there.

Hearing that voice expanded and mainstreamed in editorials and interviews was one of the hardest things about watching last night’s performance. The frustration of so few quantifiable changes is hard to balance against the lives that were changed so drastically, and, even when it was for the better, out of such tragedy.

It was also extremely surreal to watch actors perform people I knew, whose voices I could hear in the words – but not in the sound of the speech. For me, this act of theatre gave these words even more power – both positive and negative – because it made them more universal. Yes, these were things that my friends had said, sometimes things I had heard them say in person, but they were also the voice of a movement towards justice and human rights. In the case of the more negative comments, they were also things I had heard people say, and in some ways that was even harder – because they are the blocks to progress and prevention, they are the reason that hate crimes have increased, not decreased, they are proof that it easier to ignore tragedy than to be transformed by it, and they break my heart.

Ultimately, I am very glad that I went to see this landmark production – a production that was performed simultaneously in over 100 theatres around the world. Here is a link to the “trailer” on YouTube for a peek at some of the interviews and here is information about the project itself. If you get the chance to see this play performed, go. And think about how you construct your history. Because this is a play about more than just Laramie, it is about all of us.

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