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B.C. school stages controversial 'Laramie Project'

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 | 3:17 PM ET

One British Columbia school board calls The Laramie Project profane, another school board is calling it profound.

Last fall, the school board in Surrey, B.C., shut down a production of the play by New Yorker Moisés Kaufman, saying its violence and profanity were inappropriate.

The play deals with the murder of Matthew Sheppard, a gay university student in Laramie, Wyoming.

But just months later, Lord Byng Secondary School in Vancouver is both staging the play, and turning it into an extensive teaching tool.

The Laramie Project opened Wednesday at the school and will run until Friday.
 
Kauffman visited the school and worked with drama students who were staging the play.

In an interview with CBC News, he said he was more than upset that the Surrey School Board banned his play. "Enraged, depressed... the fact that somebody would ban a play on tolerance."

Kauffman and his Tectonic Theatre Company spent a year in Laramie, interviewing hundreds of people about their reaction to Sheppard's murder. The 21-year-old student had been picked up in a bar, was beaten, tied to a fence and died later in hospital.

The play opened to acclaim in New York and has since been staged on several Canadian stages, including the Foote Theatre School in Edmonton.

He cautioned the Lord Byng students against portraying the people of Laramie as hillbillies or rednecks.

"The thing about Laramie is not that it is that different from every other town, it's that it is that similar," he said.

The administration at Lord Byng hosted a public forum on The Laramie Project a week before it hit the stage.

Students at the school were encouraged to discuss the message of tolerance delivered by the play and to relate it to events in their own community.

Among the events they heard about was the 2001 beating death of Vancouverite Aaron Webster in Stanley Park, a death that many regard as gay bashing.

Some students said they related to the play because of having gay or lesbian parents or friends.

While the drama students are staging the play, other students are also participating. Art students are creating a sculpture called The Tree of Change; English classes are studying the way language is used to create prejudice and fear; and the film class is making a documentary about the project.

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