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John Burroughs High teaches tolerance with winning play

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The John Burroughs High School cast of “The Laramie Project” will be performing the play during the California Education Theatre Assn. High School Theatre Festival at Los Osos High School in January.
(Photo by Jay Binkly)

Schools in the Burbank Unified School District have been doing their best to teach tolerance to students this year.

In November, John Muir Middle School had its first-ever “Muir United” event, in which classes were halted for one day and guest speakers from various social backgrounds talked with students.

John Burroughs High School’s drama department also addressed tolerance in its production of “The Laramie Project” that same month. The performance received high marks and was recently chosen as Best Play in the Los Angeles region by the California Educational Theatre Assn.

The students will be performing the play once more at the California Education Theatre Assn. High School Theatre Festival, being held from Jan. 12 through 14 at Los Osos High School in Rancho Cucamonga.

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“The classroom went nuts when I told them that they won,” said Guy Myers, drama teacher at John Burroughs. “They started laughing, screaming and hugging each other, and they were so full of joy.”

“The Laramie Project” was written in 2000 by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project. It chronicles the events after the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student who was attending the University of Wyoming.

Shepard was found tied to a fence on Oct. 6, 1998, in Laramie, Wyo., after being beaten and tortured. He died six days later from his injuries.

Kaufman and his colleagues went to Laramie several weeks after Shepard’s death and spent about a year interviewing Laramie residents about what would eventually be decreed as a hate crime. A lot of the dialogue from their interviews was incorporated into the play, Myers said.

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“They took all of the interviews and created a patchwork of all of their words into a theater piece to tell the story,” Myers said. “The students don’t reenact scenes from what happened that night. You just hear people talk about what they think happened, about Matthew and about the perpetrators. In that way, it’s a very historical and social piece of theater.”

Since the drama department puts on three shows each school year, Myers said he wanted to choose at least one play that would be relevant to current events.

After noticing a rise in the number of hate crimes in the country, Myers said “The Laramie Project” was the perfect play to produce in light of what he said was happening nationwide.

Myers said the students involved with the production were mature and professional about the topic. He added that one of the judges from the California Education Theatre Assn. commented that the John Burroughs production impacted her more than the original play.

Sophomore Ariana Kretz, who portrays LGBT rights activist Romaine Patterson in the play, said she did not want to do a disservice to the original production or the person she was portraying. She added that she hopes people who see the play realize there is more to people than just the labels they put on one another.

“This is one of the most important things I’ll ever do in my life,” Kretz said. “It really hits you when you’re up there and you’re doing your performance. It makes you realize that nothing else matters except loving other people.”

To purchase tickets to the California Education Theatre Assn. High School Theatre Festival, visit cetoweb.org/ceta/.

anthonyclark.carpio@latimes.com

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Twitter: @acocarpio


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