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Seneca Valley Hopes to Open Hearts and Change Minds With Production of “The Laramie Project”

Seneca Valley High School presents its Fall play, “The Laramie Project” in the Seneca Valley Auditorium on December 3, 4, and 5 at 7:00 pm. "The Laramie Project" is “a breathtaking collage”, depicting the town of Laramie, Wyoming learning to cope with the cost of hatred.

In 1998, 21-year old college student Matthew Shepard was attacked, beaten, and tied to a fence on the outskirts of the town because of his sexual orientation. The brutal murder spurred a national dialogue about acceptance, tolerance, and inclusion.

Five months later, the Tectonic Theatre Company conducted over 200 interviews to gain an introspective look into the psyche of the town. Each word of the play is verbatim from the interviews conducted by the Tectonic Theatre Company, providing the actors with the unique challenge of penetrating the minds of real people. The result is a compelling piece of theatre which inspires a “generation of advocates” for equal rights and acceptance, according to Joanna C. Fellows, drama director at Seneca Valley.

Seneca students involved in this production have stretched their acting and design skills in the process; simultaneously developing their skills as thespians and as citizens, said Fellows. “The actors and crew have engaged in college-level acting exercises, conducted research, participated in open-minded peer discussion, and consulted with PFLAG Germantown in their pursuit to not only produce a compelling production but to instill in themselves and in others a spirit of advocacy. This thoughtful, emotional performance will be sure to inspire the audience to take action against hatred.”

Performances are December 3, 4, and 5 in the Seneca Valley Auditorium. Tickets are available online at svhsdrama. yolasite.com for $8 for adults, $6 Student/Senior, and $40 for a package of 5 tickets. At the door, prices are $10 for adults, and $8 Student/Senior. Due to content and language considerations, the performance is not recommended for children under 13.

According to Fellows, the process of bringing “The Laramie Project” to Seneca Valley has spearheaded a school-wide initiative to make Seneca a safe space, where everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity, religion, ethnicity, appearance or sexual orientation can feel welcome and safe. “Seneca Valley students and staff are committed to challenging the cultural and institutional violence that devalue marginalized members of our community,” said Fellows.

Although the play is fifteen years old, it is eerily timely, said Fellows. In June, the Same-Sex marriage law passed, promising a new era of equitable rights for gay couples, once again ushering in a nationwide conversation about acceptance and tolerance.

“Although our culture is shifting in favor of gay rights, in our nation continues bigotry and violence towards gay and transgender individuals,” said Fellows. “In October, transgender Seneca Valley graduate Zella Zinoa was shot in Gaithersburg by an acquaintance who was ‘embarrassed’ by her ‘flamboyant’ behavior towards him. Anti-gay and other discriminatory cultural sentiments are brought under the microscope in our media-centered society, wherein information travels fast and perspectives can be easily distributed.”

The in-school performance of “The Laramie Project” will not only offer students the play, but a talk-back led by representatives from The Rainbow Youth Alliance, Germantown PFLAG, The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, and The Matthew Shepard Foundation to stimulate a school-wide discussion about equity and inclusion. To extend the discussion, Seneca Valley and PFLAG Germantown are planning an open community forum on LGBTQ issues in February 2016.

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