Thursday, May 10, 2007

Reality Check

I am one of those people that has no trouble separating fact from fiction. I don't watch super hero movies and think that I could be one, I don't watch CSI and think "I could so do that and not get caught!", and I don't read romance novels and believe that crap really happens. I am a realist. I am.

Today this conviction of mine was shaken. I am the prop mistress for the Denton Community Theatre's production of The Laramie Project, the story of the violent murder of Matthew Shepherd, a gay student in Laramie, Wyoming - a horrific true story. Though I am overly busy right now, I really wanted to work on this show. I can't articulate why. I just did.

Props for this show are relatively uninvolved - some notebooks and tape recorders for the reporters, a few beer bottles, a telephone, some stage cigarettes. Most of these things are easy to come by. The only things that I had to make were signs that are carried during a scene where a conservative preacher stages a protest during the funeral of the murdered Matthew Shepherd. This scene illustrates just how much hate there is in this world. Remember, this is a true story. The scenes are conversations and events that actually happened and the sentiments on the protest signs were carried in a public display. They read, "DEATH TO GAYS", "AIDS CURES FAGS", "MATTHEW IS IN HELL", "GOD HATES GAYS". I had to make these signs - constantly reminding myself that they are only props.

I guess the notion of creating something, whether it be drawing a picture, writing a poem, or making a prop, is sacred to me. I honestly believe that a spark of the divine is emitted from us each time we create something. I was having a hard time reconciling this belief while making these signs.

I wrote out each phrase so that I could count the number of each alphabet letter that I needed. I must confess that I used purchased stick-on letters so at least I did not have to write and color these words. That was little consolation. In to Michael's I go clutching my list of phrases and the accompanying tally of needed letters. All I could think of was, 'What if someone sees what I have written on this page!" I bought my 6" letters, in black, red and white, and some red, black, yellow, and blue foam core board and headed back to the theatre. I had put this chore of as long as I could. It was now time to make the signs. The show opens next week and the actors would love to have all of their props!

Erin and our favorite queen, Gerald, helped me make the signs. The fact that a gay friend was helping me made this whole experience even weirder. How did he feel knowing that these sentiments were being fired at him? We carefully placed the letters on each board. On the sign that said MATTHEW IS IN HELL, we painted the fires of hell all around the word hell. It is awful looking.

I don't understand how people can live with so much hate inside them. I understand dislike, fear, even disapproval, but not hate. I will probably never be able to comprehend such a deep seeded disdain for another human being. I guess an attempt at fostering understanding is the purpose of the show. It asks us all to look at how we feel about and treat our fellow man. Because we are all human. we all have certain people "for whom we do not have a fondness." It may not be gays and lesbians, but face it, there is somebody. As the song in Avenue Q says, "everyone is a little bit racist." The key here may be in the words "a little bit." A little bit I don't think translates to hate. And, it sure doesn't mean that you murder someone and leave them to die tied to a fence, alone.

The fact that I have had such a visceral reaction to making these props probably mean that the members of the Techtonic Theatre Group were successful in their mission for creating this show. They have made me, and hopefully everyone who has seen and will see The Laramie Project, stare in to the eyes of hate. It is heart wrenching experience.

The redemption in all of this is that I have one last prop to make - a three foot parade banner that is to read, ERASE HATE. Ah, I am grateful that there are two sides to everything. And in this case, both sides are visible. So, tomorrow I will make this banner. And tomorrow, the protest signs will be used on stage for the first time. I am not sure how I will feel the first (or the second, or the third . . . .time) I see them under the lights. I guess that I will live in the hope that because physically the ERASE HATE banner is bigger than the hate posters, so too will its message be bigger.

Oh to live in a world where hate, all hate, was erased. Just think how big that metaphoric pink pearl eraser would have to be! We can all make a start with the little eraser at the end of our Ticonderogas. Each small erasure will help to remove unwanted marks on our world.