You gotta leave them with hope.

After yet another wonderful Friday night talk-back (and thanks for sticking with us after we held the opening curtain for 15 minutes which put our final curtain time at 10:30pm), I came home and checked Jackrabbit’s blog to see that she got home safely after her whirlwind trip to see us. She did. She also seemed profoundly moved by the production and the conversations she had with actors and crew both before and after Thursday’s show. The same goes for our two guests last night and, as always, for me too.

As I tried to wind down from Friday’s long day and great night, I happened to catch the last seven minutes of Milk, Gus Van Sant’s 2008 docudrama (and I use that term in the porous sense that Derek Paget referenced during his lecture on Friday afternoon) about the life and death of Harvey Milk.

As “luck” would have it, I arrived during the scene where Dan White (Josh Brolin) asks Harvey (Sean Penn) into his office. White has already shot Mayor Moscone. After he closes his office door, he proceeds to shoot Harvey three times at close range. As the last bullet spins him around and his last gaze catches the San Fransisco skyline, the scene shifts back in time to an activity that has framed the entire film: Harvey dictating his apocryphal “last” words into a tape recorder. As we flip back from that retrospective event of him describing the very real potential of his assassination, we are also flung into footage (some historical, some re-created for the film) of the 30,000 mourners who converged on City Hall upon hearing of the deaths of Milk and Moscone. No surprise that the scene brought tears to my eyes and also put me in mind of our show. As the lights of that massive vigil fill the screen, we see and hear Harvey/Penn speak lines into that recorder drawn from Milk’s “Hope Speech” delivered March 10, 1978, 8 months before his murder, and from the “in the event of my death” tape itself.

We hear echoes of Milk’s rhetoric in Doc’s “H-O-P-E” moment, which makes me a bit skeptical that the “real” Doc O’Connor’s words might have been massaged a bit by Moises (or perhaps Doc’s admission of bisexual trysts to 20/20 are true, and he shares some core beliefs about sexuality with Milk?). For whatever reason, there are linkages between these deaths and the responses they engendered that the universe seemed to be reminding me about after last night’s show. Perhaps I was in particular need of feeling hope, considering I almost burst into tears during the talk-back when Pam Spaulding recalled a recent meeting with the NC legislator/pastor who couldn’t be moved beyond her religious beliefs to represent all of her constituents, especially the lesbian second parent (like me) whose family is under direct and immediate threat by NC House Bill 777 and Senate Bill 106. Not to mention the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as she discussed the hate mail she received for promoting John Amaechi’s New York Times op-ed about Kobe Bryant’s use of the f-word in a confrontation with a referee, a piece which calls out Bryant’s assertion of a kind of “live and let live” privilege (if not in those exact words), a privilege that allows him to cast his apology for the slur as being sorry for his critics’ thin-skin at homophobic language rather than being sorry for his quick and easy use of that language.

Each night I see the show I am grateful for so many things. Particularly for the hope that you all give me that someday, as Derek alluded to in his lecture, there might be less need for stories like Laramie because the systems that divide and oppress will be dismantled and reshaped. In the meantime, you give me hope that through these stories and this documentary form, we will find ways to illuminate the path to that someday for ourselves and our audiences. I’ll leave you with the words (and some images) of Harvey.

I know you cannot live on hope alone, but without it life is not worth living. And you. And you. And you … gotta give ’em hope.

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