Thank you Matthew

I sit here with a full head and an empty page, unsure of what I want to say here; unsure of how brave and honest I want to be in this posting. The Laramie Project has come so far in the past month that it hardly resembles the play it once was. As Jeff tells us every night, it has taken a life of its own. It is a story that belongs to us, and it really does. While most of our struggles do not replicate those of our characters, I think each person in the cast has had a personal arc that really draw us together in the play. Or maybe I am just projecting. Whatever. All I can really tell you is my story, anyway.

I am very excited to have an audience. We reached the point where everyone knows their lines, where each person really gets a chance to hone his or her acting skills. We reached that, passed it, and I feel that if we were here much longer, we would stagnate. It’s time for us to share the story that we have been working on. We have to give Laramie away to an audience. They must see the Matthew Shepard story from our point of view, from our eyes that have been working with the script and the people for several months now. We will hand it to them and see what happens. I am excited to see the emotion come back to life through them, to see each scene through the eyes of someone to whom this is all new.

This play has forced me to make decisions about things. I had always been content to say “I don’t know” when it comes to the death penalty. But after twenty times watching the scene where Laramie residents discuss their opinions on the matter, I realize I do have an opinion. It started as just a tiny wiggling feeling while I was watching that part of the show, but eventually I found myself nodding along with the residents I agree with. It came as somewhat of a surprise to me; as a moderate American, it is perfectly acceptable for me to have undefined opinions on political matters. But that’s not how I want to be.

I don’t know what it’s like to be gay or lesbian in this world. Mentally, I have always known this that. But there is a whole depth of struggle and pain that I didn’t even realize is present; that who you are as a person may cause others to scorn you. That’s something I can’t grasp, but at least now I know I can’t. During a rehearsal, one of my fellow cast members turned to me and said something along the lines of “the word tolerance is such crap.” I reeled. Tolerance to me was a word that everyone strives for, for everyone to be happy and la de dah. But tolerance is not that. Tolerance means you still dislike someone, but you put up with them because you have to. Tolerance is such crap.

Now to the meat of the issue. This is hard for me to say. I was raised in a religious household, and still have strong ties to the church. If you are not aware, the gay issue is kind of a big deal right now in that sphere, trying to decide who has what rights within the church. It’s easy to shrug your shoulders when people ask what you think, and not have a fully formed opinion. Cuz you know, in a religious light homosexuality is wrong, but how can that be true when I have seen friends struggling for years because they don’t want to admit to themselves or their Catholic family their own feelings? Or when you see more love in a homosexual relationship than you have in many heterosexual relationships? And I was proud of myself, you know, for acting in a play and advocating rights that I was pretty sure I believed in. Then there’s that line at the end of the play. “How did I ever let that stuff make me think that you were different from me?” And I was very… struck. Because I think that at the heart of it, I might have thought that way at points in my life. That it’s only working so closely with this play that I know without a doubt there’s not an ounce of difference between you and me. That maybe I was Jedediah Schultz at the beginning of the play. I’ve always loved my gay friends for who they are. But this play has just sort of cast things in a new light, or at least pointed out inconsistencies in my thought processes. My first thought is thank God that I got to act in this play and learn to love in a new way. And my second thought was thank you Matthew.

2 thoughts on “Thank you Matthew

  1. (Since you do not identify yourself within the post and you do talk about some personal history, I’m not going to respond using your name, but I just want to know that I know who you are! I didn’t want you to think I was just making a generic response.)

    This is beautiful. And I say that not just because you’re echoing positions that I hold dear (I think I have “tolerance is crap” embroidered on a pillow somewhere and if I don’t I think I’m gonna ::grin::) but because the *way* you’re articulating your reasoning is so personal and so connected to participating in this play at this moment it is extremely gratifying to hear as a theater teacher and maker. I am particularly struck by your last paragraph. The way the play and the ensemble we’ve built around it has provoked you to take a new look at your own history, positions, and your future — this, I can’t help but think, is a kind of experience that illustrates the kind of critical response that Brecht desired of his audience, his actors. It also illustrates why the piece is destined for continued inclusion in the canon of American theater.

    Thank you for sharing your own process in connecting your life with the theater. Thank you for sharing your time and talent with this ensemble, which would not be the same without you. I hope your carry the experience with you in positive and sustaining ways for a long, long time.


  2. This is a deeply moving post. The ability to personally transform oneself without giving up parts of yourself, which are at the core of who you are, is a huge challenge. But it keeps us alive. Present. Open to all that life could serve up. I envy you your transformations. The older you get the more challenging they become. No less significant, just challenging. Whoever this is. I learn from your growth. And I want to thank you. Best Jeffrey

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