Tectonic Theater Project Responds to Texas High School Cancellation of The Laramie Project | Playbill

Education News Tectonic Theater Project Responds to Texas High School Cancellation of The Laramie Project

Parents received an email Friday night announcing the cancellation, but no transparent reasoning was provided.

Original cast of The Laramie Project

A Texas school district—Keller Independent School District—has cancelled a high school's spring production of The Laramie Project, the groundbreaking play about the murder of Matthew Shepard. Parents of students at Timber Creek High School received an email February 23 announcing that the production would be replaced with something along the lines of Mary Poppins or White Christmas, according to a local news report.

25 years ago in Laramie, Wyoming, a young gay man named Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten, chained to a fence, and left to die in a homophobic hate crime. Shepard’s death marked a turning point in the United States surrounding LGBTQIA+ rights and protections, eventually leading to the passage of the country’s first federal legislation for hate crimes in 2009. The Laramie Project, created in collaboration by ten theatremakers from the Tectonic Theater Project, chronicles the aftermath of Shepard's death through real, transcribed interviews with members of the Laramie community, who represented a wide array of backgrounds and beliefs. The play is a popular choice for high schools across the United States to perform as an act of education.

READ: An Oral History of The Laramie Project 25 Years After Matthew Shepard's Murder

The Keller community has since jumped to action, with a petition for the show to go on receiving 2,500 signatures and counting. According to Dallas' WFAA 8 local news, more than 70 students had signed on to perform in the production. 

One student performer, Danny Street, wrote in the petition's comments: "As a queer student in this show, I am absolutely livid that it has been cancelled not once, but TWICE. My freshman year we were meant to perform Laramie, and it was changed right before auditions. KISD has been continuously pushing their anti-LGBTQ agenda these past few years and it’s hurtful and uncalled for...Let us tell this story, if you don’t then you are proving you’re on the wrong side of history and you stand right with the bigots who caused the demise of Matthew Shepard. Protect queer kids and queer art in schools."

Community members and local news outlets have connected the cancellation to the school district's recent vote by trustees that district employees "shall not promote, encourage, or require the use of pronouns that are inconsistent with a student’s or other person’s biological sex." The Texas school district is one of countless across the country who have adopted new rules and restrictions banning and censoring different works of literature and art representing LGBTQ+ characters and stories in the classrooms, with a production of Paula Vogel's Indecent also being cancelled at a Florida high school this time last year, citing that a closer look at the "mature content" led to the decision.

The Tectonic Theater Project's Founding Artistic Director Moisés Kaufman has issued a statement in response to the news, writing: “When the administration of the Timber Creek High School cancels a production of The Laramie Project, it’s telling the LGBTQ students that their stories are unwelcome, that they should refrain from speaking their truth and that that community is not willing to listen. This is a terrible thing to do to any minority. The Laramie Project has been performed in thousands of universities and high schools around the world. The only logical reason to censor it is homophobia – and that’s not what that school should be teaching its children.”

Matthew Shepard's mother, Judy Shepard, also spoke with the Dallas Morning News, stating: "My heart is broken when people still refuse to see how important this work is...It might scare some kids. And it might wake some kids up. And it might make kids want to make change—all of those things. And they have the power to do it."

Playbill has reached out to Timber Creek High School for a comment. Further comments and updates will be added as soon as they are available.

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