Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor



Local high school students take risk with 'Laramie'
by Steven Chaitman

This article shared 4860 times since Wed Feb 15, 2012
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

They were supposed to do A Midsummer Night's Dream—something light, something fun to perform. It would also be a production elementary school kids could come see, and a show that would make the school a bit of money.

However, Lisa Ehrlich-Menard, drama director at Curie Metro High School, 4959 S. Archer Ave., had had enough of the status quo. She usually confined the study of social issues theatre to the classroom, but decided it was time to challenge her Drama III students, and to make them look at real issues from the outside and then channel them into performance. So she chose The Laramie Project.

"I think I'm just getting tired," said Ehrlich-Menard, who has taught at Curie for six years. "I'm getting tired of not giving these teenagers power, letting them understand the power that they should feel they have and that their voice does matter, they can make a difference and they can do it through the arts when everybody is telling them that the arts don't necessarily matter and the arts are not going to get you anywhere."

Ehrlich-Menard wasn't worried about getting fired for choosing a play centered on gay issues and hate; that's not a problem at Curie. The difficulty is the administration's attitude toward the arts, which she described as "indifferent."

"They'll tell us, 'It's great that you're doing that,' but they never find out what we're doing," she said.

Instead, it was the reaction of the students coming to see the designated school performance that Ehrlich-Menard feared the most. She wrote letters to teachers, who could choose whether to bring their students, and warned them that some kids might laugh at inappropriate moments or say obnoxious, disruptive things. She also gave them study guides so that the students would be prepared for what they were seeing.

Whether it was the advance notice or the power of the production itself, it worked.

"[The students in the audience] were amazing," Ehrlich-Menard said. "The audience was silent, which we never get—ever."

Since it debuted in 2000, The Laramie Project, by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project, has become a paragon of social justice theatre and a staple of high school drama repertoire. However, for the students of Curie, the dramatic recounting of the brutal 1998 beating and eventual death of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo. was a discovery, and a powerful one at that.

A magnet school in Archer Heights with a student population that includes large percentages of Latino and Black students, Curie's racial lines are apparent every day, but issues of sexual orientation and gender identity are discussed with more rarity. As such, many of the students in the play realized the importance of their production.

Curie senior Jocelyn Diaz said that, before working on this play, she did not realize how big the scope of LGBT issues was.

"I think that this play was really hard to put on because I don't think a lot of people can grasp the idea of homosexuality," Diaz said. "I think we all need to work really hard to show people that it's there and they need to acknowledge it. That's the way our society is."

A group of the students, all of whom are seniors, came to the regular post-show hangout restaurant after the Feb. 2 performance, but the usual camaraderie of high school theatre kids was distinctly absent, the play's somberness following them across the street. Putting on The Laramie Project clearly takes every ounce of their strength, and it becomes all too easy to get emotional. For many of the students, it's also personal, and that can really bring on the tears.

A number of them woefully admitted to having used phrases like "that's so gay" or "you're so gay," and now understand how those words can hurt—and it bothers them.

"When [my brother] came out I didn't realize how much [saying those phrases] would hurt him until one day we were downtown and some guy called him a faggot," said student Nileen Cancel. "For somebody to say that to my own brother … I didn't like it. I love him so much and I think about what they did to Matthew… if something were to happen to my brother because he was gay, I couldn't handle it."

Eric Ayala discovered firsthand how his words could hurt when he learned that his cousin had told everyone else in his family that he was gay except for him.

"[My cousin] said that he hears the way I was talking to other people and he didn't like that and he didn't want me judging him," Ayala said. "So that made me think: he's right, I shouldn't be judging people—I'm no one to judge anybody. Saying stuff like that is not going to do anything; it's not going to make them change. It's just going to hurt them."

Deanna Aguilera, an out lesbian student, has two older siblings who are also openly gay. She has long been involved in LGBT activism, including her school's gay-straight alliance, and being in the play reminded her of the difference she can make.

"The fact that I got to be in something like this and show an audience that this is going on and it should be changed felt amazing," Aguilera said.

After all the students shared their initial reflections on the production, Ehrlich-Menard took the opportunity to remind the teens of exactly how much of a difference they already made. She said a number of teachers have thanked her personally and for her bravery in putting on "Laramie."

"Some of you didn't realize how big of a deal [this play] would end up being," she told them. "And I just hope this makes you realize the transformative power that theatre can have, which is what I've been trying to do for the last three years. It can be fun, but you can use it."

Ehrlich-Menard has seen tremendous growth in her students since beginning work on The Laramie Project. They go on Facebook and share videos related to "Laramie" and other LGBT fronts.

"[They've learned] that hey aren't just passive consumers, that they also have ability to affect people and make difference and say something," she said. "They did not feel that before. Most high school kids don't feel that way. They are now so much more vocal about things."

Some of that growth has been intensely personal. Ehrlich-Menard said she's extremely proud of one student in particular who felt strongly against homosexuality before the play, but has since become more tolerant, now at least seeing it as a choice that should be accepted.

The play has also caught the attention of the Curie administration. Two, including the principal, attended part of the final performance on Feb. 4.

Now Ehrlich-Menard faces the challenge of making sure this big step is just the beginning for her students.

"I don't want them to forget that how they are on a daily basis speaks volumes as well as putting on a big piece once," she said. "I don't want this to be over because the play is over."

The class hopes to attend Redtwist Theatre's production of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, which opens in March. Judy Shepard will be in town for the March 10 performance benefiting the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and Ehrlich-Menard said she hopes Shepard might be available to talk with the students. She felt it would be a meaningful way to cap off a socially significant production and, more importantly, what has been an unforgettable experience for her students.

This article shared 4860 times since Wed Feb 15, 2012
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


Gay News

Billy Porter receives star on Hollywood Walk of Fame
On Dec. 1, award-winning actor/director/singer/playwright Billy Porter received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "I'm just so blessed and so grateful to be here," he said, according to KTLA. "James Baldwin said, 'It's an ...

Gay News

Peppermint barks while Broadway bangs, and all the other dish to start the week
"I love Broadway. I love what they do—Broadway Cares, but I also want to say the show is extraordinary!" —Nicole Kidman's impromptu speech after bidding $100K to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS for Hugh Jackman's hat after ...

Gay News

WORLD Church of England, World Cup news, court rulings, Justin Trudeau
The Church of England is defending the scrutinized guidance for its 4,700 primary schools on LGBTQ+ issues, claiming that it doesn't allow students as young as 5 to self-identify as the opposite sex, The Christian Post ...

Gay News

NATIONAL $1M donation, church departures, Harvey Milk, abortions, Grindr
In Ohio, Dayton-based insurance company CareSource is donating $1 million to United Church Homes to support the development of a senior living facility at the site of the former Longfellow School that will also aim at ...

Gay News

New York theaters bounce back: Four shows ask questions about identity
All theater critics worth their salt should take a bite of the Big Apple now and then, savoring the bright lights of Broadway and a soggy slice of what passes for pizza. On my first visit in nearly three years, Broadway ...

Gay News

Gay man to head Chicago Latino Theater Alliance
The Chicago Latino Theater Alliance (CLATA) announced the appointment of Jorge Valdivia as its new executive director, according to the Lawndale News. Valdivia's previous position was director of performing arts at the National Museum of Mexic ...

Gay News

Theater Review: Porchlight's Rent is a winner
By Jonathan Abarbanel - Title: Rent. Playwright: Jonathan Larson (book, music, lyrics) At: Porchlight Music Theatre at Ruth Page Center. Tickets: 773-777-9884;; $25 and up. Runs through: Dec. 11 From its 1996 premiere ...

Gay News

Mister International Rubber takes the stage at Center on Halsted, Riviera Theatre
The MIR26 (Mister International Rubber) competition took place at the Center on Halsted and the Riviera Theatre over the Nov. 4-6 weekend. Pusckatt Pumera Onyx won the competition. The event was co-emceed by Lucy Stoole and ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Gay racer, GALECA, Lena Waithe, 'Chicago,' LGBTQ+ films
Gay motorsports racer Zach Herrin made his long-awaited debut in a NASCAR-affiliated race in Phoenix, The Advocate noted. "I know I have a lot of eyes on me, and all I want to do is get out there and blur everything ...

Gay News

Chicago Teachers Union: Lightfoot's CPS team must remove Jones HS principal, address racially hostile environment
-- From a Chicago Teachers Union press release - CHICAGO, Nov. 3, 2022 — The Chicago Teachers Union issued the following statement after learning of another incidence of intolerance at Jones College Prep High School, which has been dogged by complaints of antisemitism, racism and ...

Gay News

HRC Chicago to bestow annual Community Visibility Award, spotlight local partners
-- From a press release - CHICAGO, IL, November 3, 2022 — E. Patrick Johnson, Dean of the School of Communication and Annenberg University Professor of Performance Studies and African American Studies at Northwestern University is to be recognized for distinguished service ...

Gay News

QPOC and transgender elders become focus of grad school student's master's thesis
When we think about how LGBTQ+ age, helping people feel connected and "seen" is just one of the many ways a community can care for LGBTQ+ elders. It can contribute to their mental health as they ...

Gay News

School of the Art Institute auction on Nov. 1-14, auction party on Nov. 11
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is inviting all art collectors and enthusiasts to an online auction taking place Nov. 1-14 on, where a diverse group of SAIC alums and faculty will ...

Gay News

NATIONAL Birth certificates, university items, drag-show standoff, 'Models of Pride'
Following a lawsuit from ACLU, ACLU of West Virginia and the Harvard Law School LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources' Vital Registration Office has introduced more accessible and safer policies ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Nathan Lane, gala, Beyonce, Kevin Aviance, Henry Cavill, Shania
Video below - Nathan Lane is returning to Broadway this winter to star in the debut run of Pictures of Home, per The Hollywood Reporter. Based on the photo memoir by Larry Sultan of the same name and adapted ...


Copyright © 2022 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.







About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.