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Corner Canyon Theater Students Learn from ‘The Laramie Project’

Apr 07, 2016 01:49PM ● Published by Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com

Draper - Corner Canyon High School theater students took powerful messages from performing “The Laramie Project,” their director said.

The play focuses on life in Laramie, Wyo., a year after University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, beaten and left to die while tied to a fence outside of Laramie in October 1998. He was gay. The murder was denounced as a hate crime and brought attention to the lack of hate crime laws in various states. 

Theater director and teacher Phaidra Atkinson said that the play draws on hundreds of interviews of townspeople, journal entries and published news reports, and her students also corresponded with about five of the people the play is based on and researched the community and its attitude. The play was performed at Corner Canyon March 3-4.

“I picked the play for the reason that they should try to do something about injustice and teach the students one of the great lessons in life,” she said. “I want them to step into the shoes of others and learn from the situation. People can hate without reason, but if we’re not as judgmental, we can be kinder and bring more love.”

One person, the hospital CEO Rulon Stacey, admitted his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints upbringing didn’t allow for the understanding of homosexuals, Atkinson said.

“Now, he has seen the hate firsthand and said, ‘It has changed me. You don’t hate because they believe differently than you,’ and [he] has passed that message on,” she said.

Stacey’s wife attended the March 3 showing of the play. Stacey, who was unable to attend the play, slated March 30 to speak to students firsthand.

“I hope he instills a message of hope to the students and explains how change has occurred since Matthew passed on,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson also had students post a quote that sends a powerful message.

“One of those says, ‘Hate is not a value,’” she said. “I want students to love others and stay away from hate. I hope that message reached our audience as well.”

She said that, in the course of putting on the play, students learned about all the hate mail Matthew received. 

“When you hear about the horrible letters, you realize how mean people can be. And when you learn about the boys who killed him, it’s surprising. One boy who killed him was raised LDS, was a [Boy] Scout, but then as a senior in high school got a speeding ticket, and that triggered him,” she said.

The two Corner Canyon students who took on the roles of Matthew’s murderers treated their parts seriously, she said.

“They researched those boys and watched documentaries about them. It was chilling, but they did a great job and I’m proud of them,” she said.

The show was put on by the productions class, which had 28 members to audition for the parts in the show. Senior Abby Maxwell was the student director, and junior Hannah Anderson was the stage manager.

The show ended with senior Dylan Manzanares arranging music that left a sense of hope, Atkinson said. 

“The words included, ‘I’ll do better. I’ll have my eyes open to love and grow,’” she said.

Also included in the director’s notes was information about Matthew’s family’s life after his death. His mother, Judy, set up a foundation in her son’s name and was part of an anti-hate bill that reached President Barack Obama.

This play was performed again on March 8 as Corner Canyon’s competition piece in the upcoming one-act performances at region and will be their entry at state April 14-16. 

“It’s one of the deepest shows we have ever got into. We’ve researched, had class discussions, talked about characters and focused on hate. It’s a very effective play on stage and one with messages that will stay with the students and the audience,” Atkinson said. 

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