High school production of The Laramie Project banned

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com October 18 2002 12:00 AM ET

Spokane, Wash.'s Lewis and Clark High School will not be presenting its scheduled performance of The Laramie Project due to administrators' objections over the play's use of profanity and homophobic slurs, reports The [Spokane] Spokesman-Review. Written by Mois├ęs Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project, The Laramie Project looks at the effect of the brutal murder of gay student Matthew Shepard on the town of Laramie, Wyo. "We wanted to teach people about tolerance," said cast member Brynnda Napier, 16. "I have lots of gay and lesbian friends who face ridicule here. We need to show people that's wrong."

Teacher Bryan Jackson chose the play last spring with the help of about 30 students. Knowing the controversial nature of The Laramie Project, he had his cast read the script with their parents and asked for members of the community to participate in a panel discussion that would have followed the performance. "Our plan was to use the play as a teaching tool," said Jackson, who has taught at the school for nine years. "These hate crimes don't just happen in Laramie, Wyo. They happen in Spokane, Wash."

Lewis and Clark principal Jon Swett didn't learn about the play until September 26, one week into rehearsals, and said he wasn't aware of any offensive material until a parent complained. Jackson said he didn't tell administrators about the play because he's never had to ask permission before and that this production wouldn't have been the first time a student play at the school contained profanity or dealt with sensitive subject matter.

Swett says, however, that he was worried that there wasn't enough time to educate students about homosexuality and other issues addressed in the play. "The reason I was concerned wasn't because we were afraid to deal with something sensitive," he said, noting that the school had recently held a candlelight vigil in Shepard's memory. "We just didn't have enough time to plan for the educational piece, to answer all the questions that were going to come up.... I have to start with what's best for my students."

The school's fall production will now be And No One Came for Me, a play about the Holocaust. Jackson says he will write the playwrights of The Laramie Project and ask for a high-school version of the play with less controversial language and that he will continue conversations with Swett about staging it next year.