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N.J. Catholic high school cancels production of ‘The Laramie Project’

Friday, March 23, 2012

LAWRENCE, N.J. — Administrators at a New Jersey Catholic high school have cancelled the planned production of “The Laramie Project,” and claimed that parents were worried that the choice for the play was inappropriate for high school students.

The Laramie Project” is an award winning play by Moisés Kaufman, and is based on the violent 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay college student in Wyoming who was beaten and left tied to a fence to die.

The cancellation by officials at Notre Dame High School has provoked outrage from students and cast members, who allege the action was based on pressure from a limited number of parents and others in the school community.

“The spring play was supposed to be ‘The Laramie Project,’ but as we were a week into rehearsals, the show was shut down due to the complaints from the community and parents of the school,” said cast member Sabrina Campelo, a sophomore at Notre Dame.

“The show was already approved by our president and our principal and they allowed the pressure of the community to shut it down. Us students all signed up for this project to share the story and spread awareness to help educate the ignorant people. Our play was shut down, for the same reason we were putting it up,” she said.

Students and cast members said they have been robbed of their ability to put on a thought-provoking and powerful play, one whose message of tolerance resonates powerfully in the wake of the Tyler Clementi cyber-bullying verdict, and other anti-harassment efforts in New Jersey and around the nation.

“I wanted to do a show that had meaning and purpose to it, and when I found out we were doing ‘The Laramie Project’ I got really excited because this show teaches the values I’ve been taught my last 12 years of Catholic education,” said cast member Tessa Holtenrichs, a senior at Notre Dame. “When I was told we couldn’t do it, I felt like it was really hypocritical.”

School President Barry Breen and principal Mary Ivins said in a statement the choice for the spring play was originally seen as a “powerful and appropriate vehicle” to address issues of respect and tolerance. But as calls questioning the play’s content rolled in, officials worried that the controversy would become distracting, and the decision was made Tuesday to cancel the show, reported the Times of Trenton.

“The expression of these concerns opened our eyes to the realization that different eyes will see radically different messages than the ones we intended,” they said.

“This has led the administration to conclude that we might inadvertently be placing our school at the center of an undesired and potentially damaging controversy by moving forward with the production.”

In 2009, members of the anti-gay, extremist Westboro Baptist Church picketed a production of “The Laramie Project” at an Indianapolis high school. Other shows, including several at Catholic high schools, have drawn little backlash.

Cast members and school officials said the play had been edited slightly to remove some language and one particularly intense scene. Few uttered surprise at the complaints the play drew at Notre Dame, but said the Catholic Church, which opposes gay marriage, has maintained gays are still deserving of love and understanding.

“The Laramie Project” has been produced worldwide since its premiere in 2000, and since then it has been performed by hundreds of high schools, colleges and community theaters; in 2002, the play was commissioned by HBO for a feature film.

Neither the high school nor the Archdiocese of Trenton returned calls or e-mails from LGBTQ Nation seeking comment on the play’s cancellation.

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22 more reader comments:

  1. it was about a high school kid MURDERED by IS PERFECT for High School kids….the PARENTS are AFRAID they might have t oEXPLAIN their bigotry t othe kids AFTER the show

    Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 5:30pm
  2. I know the Matthew Sheppard case-I don’t think cancellign was right

    Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 5:31pm
  3. That is wrong.. cancelling this is wrong, everyone should know and understand what our LGBT goes through, this pisses me off..

    Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 5:34pm
  4. If and when I have kids in future who knows.. they will know the Matthew Sheppard case oh heavens they will know and understand and be free to ask any questions they may have with all those closed minded people against all of us oh, I don’t tolerate that..

    Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 5:35pm
  5. ?

    Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 5:36pm
  6. So sad….my wife and I saw a local production with two of our kids (16 & 12). It was a beautiful production and very powerful.

    Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 5:40pm
  7. i was in that play in hs…amazing. this makes me sad

    Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 5:42pm
  8. bs..this play is not inappropriate for high school students! It might actually teach what bullying can cause and how bullies can cause horrible events and how the community can fight back. It is a beautiful play/movie and it shows how a horrible tragedy can turn an issue into a movement. I am so proud of this school for wanting to teach a real lesson to their students..too bad the uninformed parents ruined it. You can’t protect kids from everything. Sometimes you have to let them actually let them form their own opinions. Sit down have a conversation with your kids and then take them to the play..what is so hard about that? Or just don’t let them see it if you feel so bothered..but don’t ruin it for everyone. There is no sex..or nudity..or even a lot of violence. There is just a message that kids would benefit from learning.

    Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 5:42pm
  9. My highschool put this show on a few years back even with the Westboro Baptist Church announcing that they were going to protest at our preformance. It is a perfect play for highschoolers and it shouldnt be cancled.

    Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 5:43pm
  10. This horrible crime lit an even bigger fire in me to do all I can to support the LGBT community. My young boys know about this case, about this young man who lost his life due to hate. They are 5, 7, and 10. Surely teenagers have the capacity to understand this and learn from it.

    Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 5:59pm
  11. I went to this h.s. for a yr.

    Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 6:10pm
  12. some kinda backward thinking

    Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 7:34pm
  13. wth

    Posted on Friday, March 23, 2012 at 7:49pm
  14. BOO

    Posted on Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 3:52am
  15. I am a teacher. Parents, you can wrap your children in cotton wool and place them high on a shelf where nothing can harm them but they can still fall off that shelf if the winds of bigotry hate and homophobia are strong enough.

    Posted on Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 4:06am
  16. It’s sad that this happened. Especially, given the subject matter. But those parents probably watch Jersey Shore. Now there is a stellar example of a group of upstanding (roman) catholics.

    Posted on Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 4:32am
  17. i say shame on the parents who were pressuring the school to close down this play its a good play and thye should have let them do it.

    Posted on Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 5:29am
  18. Hmmm wonder why ? Because its a catholic school! Catholics are very strict and most of them think being lgbt is a sin that’s why they cancel it and its funny cause the pope molested kids before and that’s far more worse than just showing this project I guess they don’t believe in equal ..and didn’t say in the bible (i don’t believe in the bible just saying) one should not JUDGE ? Wow so fake you are….

    Posted on Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 6:56am
  19. Head in he sand or heads up their asses reality sucks to admit to your students.

    Posted on Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 7:12am
  20. I’m not surprised at all. The Catholic Church pretends to be a relogious organization. Truth is the Church uses its non-taxed profits to apply political pressure, allow and cover up pedophilia and has a history of organized crime. I just this week found out the age of sexual consent in the Vatican is 12. TWELVE!!! The Vatican law written by the Catholic Church.

    Posted on Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 7:49am
  21. I could tell you a few more things about the Catholic church and where they fit in the scheme of things that would really frost your butts! lol Im laughing but itis really tragic!

    Posted on Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 11:09am
  22. Wow, I know 5 schools now that are doing this play. Must be popular. My friend was in it.

    Posted on Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 11:19am