I begin work on the signs on Monday night.  It is after midnight; sometimes, between The Laramie Project and my scene design class, moving a bed into the design studio seems like not a bad idea.  Mostly what I’m doing right now is making letter stencils.  If the letters on the signs aren’t uniform, it’s going to drive me completely insane.  To this end, I hang the stencils up on the white board so that I can see how they look together.

My boyfriend is here keeping me company.  Mostly, he does his own work, but at one point, he glances up at what I’m doing, and does a major double take.

What does that say?”

What it actually says is “GOD HATES F” because I’m not duplicating stencils, but he understood what it was going to say.  So I explained the scene in which the signs are used.  He understood, but he still seemed a little disturbed by the idea that I was helping to recreate a Westboro Baptist Church protest.

I leave the studio at 3:30 AM.  The next morning, I’m back at 9.  Now I’m building the actual signs, with help from Shreya (one of the scene shop students) and Kimi, both of whose names I probably just butchered.  While there, I learn the following things:

  • Unfamiliar people will always walk in at the worst possible moments, such as when you are asking how big to make the anal sex stick figures.
  • Cutting with Xacto knives is so satisfying, especially when you need a form of stress relief.
  • G is the most annoying letter of the alphabet, by leaps and bounds.  At least S is consistently curvy, so that you make consistent motions with your knife.  G suddenly becomes hard and angular when you don’t expect it to.  I did not want to put the words “FAG SIN” on the stick figure sign the way they are in the picture, for the sole reason that I didn’t want to cut out another godforsaken G.

It’s fun.  We have a good time.  I feel a little dirty when it’s over, a feeling that is only exacerbated when several people in my scene design class ask me the next day what my unfinished signs are going to say.

I’m not sure why it eats at me this way sometimes.  The Westboro signs are neither the weirdest (that would be an oversized vibrator) nor the most hateful or emotionally wrenching (that would be Hitler Youth armbands) props that I have ever made, and yet every time I leave a session of working on them, I feel like I need to take a nice, long, hot bath with some lavender bubbles.

I guess these hit closer to home.  Talking and laughing with Kimi in the studio, it occurred to me that there is another group of young women (and men) who talk and laugh together while they make these signs, and they aren’t making props for a play.

Are we doing exactly what Father Roger says not to do?  Are we propagating the cycle of violence this way?  Are we, and is the play, legitimizing the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church by giving them this publicity, and this attention?  It’s a fine line to balance, and not a question I enjoy thinking about right now.  I don’t question their necessity as props, obviously, but I dislike giving them more name recognition than they already have.

On the bright side, I now have a great inside joke with a few people about “stick figures.”

3 thoughts on “Signs

  1. Mandy, you’ve done a great job with them. In a Brechtian sense, you allow the posters to speak for themselves. We let the audience decide for themselves how the feel about the garish messages. I checked into the theater today and it looks as if they are almost done. I appreciate the exacting detail you are copying. I want the audience to be forcEd to look at them and make up there own minds. Good work.Jeffrey

  2. Mandy–

    I have to say I don’t relish your job. It’s been hard enough to keep tabs on Phelps’ activities by typing in that heinous web address or even having it in my cache history. I’m sure that was part of Phelps’ decision in choosing that URL. The idea that the family makes money on provoking people into losing control just makes it more imperative that I try to shake off the anger I get when I have to get information from the site, but it’s hard.

    I think your invocation of Father Roger in the context of these signs — their appearance, their recreation — is a good one. I can see Tectonic’s theatrical impulse in documenting the stand-off at the courthouse. It dramatizes a moment of political theater that was created by non-theater people. They were certainly thinking about the dramatic impact, but it was meant as a political counter-protest. It put me in the mind of the Peter Weiss article we read very early in the semester where he admonishes documentary theater makers from not mistaking the plays they are doing for *actual* political protest. That’s not to say that documentary plays aren’t political, but, as Weiss reminds us, they are not the same as going out into the street, the square, the state building (like in Wisconsin, recently) and demanding change/protesting the status quo. Laramie borrows one of the most iconic images/scenes and replays it on-stage, in some sense, I think, to draw this distinction between what it is doing within the bounds of the stage and what Romaine and her protestors did on the day in question. No coincidence it is these “angel actions” that have become the way that communities (and some theater companies) have taken up their own counter-demonstrations to Phelps protest of the play itself. It’s a reminder that the play is its own political act, but one that is restrained/constrained by its theatrical boundaries. Angel Actions and other such public, off-the-stage moments are also necessary to counter the forces of Phelps and other less horrific voices raised in critique/protest of plays that discuss homosexuality (even in the context of a gay person being beaten to death).

    I think I’ve found a couple JPG options for the Matthew face for your version of the “Matt in Hell” poster. I’ll send those in an email tonight. Maybe we can ask David about coming up with a way to dismantle those (in a way that saves the foam board if it’s needed) that is cathartic at the end of this run.


  3. Such a good post Mandy. This section made me stop and think:
    “Talking and laughing with Kimi in the studio, it occurred to me that there is another group of young women (and men) who talk and laugh together while they make these signs, and they aren’t making props for a play.”

    So real. I hadn’t thought of it in that way at all, and it chilled me to think of it just now. I’ve watched the BBC documentary on Westboro and they have 5 year old kids holding the signs, who don’t even understand what’s going on.

    The signs looks great and I’m glad I could help. Thanks for writing this and making me think a little more about what the play really means.

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