Has Beckman Theater Become More Political?
Since this year, Beckman’s theater program has been selecting and performing more politically-geared productions such as “The Laramie Project” — but why?
December 9, 2019
Standing up for what they believe in and projecting their voices to the whole school — Beckman theater students do not shy away from the spotlight (literally).
Since the start of the 2019-2020 school year, Beckman’s productions have allegedly become more outspoken on political and social topics.
Their first play of the year was “The Laramie Project,” a play about a homosexual male, Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, by two men in a hate crime targeting his sexual orientation.
“In the past one or two shows, ‘The Laramie Project’ and ‘Animal Farm’ primarily, there has been a lot heavier subject matter,” theater student and senior Cairo Baldy said. But Baldy believes that it is in a good way. “I don’t think it’s necessarily making political statements; I think it’s exploring what is wrong and what is right.”
Rather than simply being political, Beckmans theater students think the matter is something different – something deeper.
“I don’t think we’re doing [the productions] on purpose to make a statement or offend anyone,” theater student and senior Bella Kelso said. “I think in the times that we’re living in, we’re given the opportunity to use theater to speak out.”
Theater student and senior Julia Ashpes agreed with Kelso. She believes that theater is a great opportunity to promote awareness about heavy topics such as discrimination against sexual orientation.
“About the show in general, I think that presenting it in theater and talking about these issues is really productive,” Ashpes expressed. “I think one of our biggest problems as a community and society is that we love to talk, but we don’t love to listen.”
Ashpes explained that an audience member sees many different points of view when watching shows like “The Laramie Project.” When people get into discussion, she believes that they just get absorbed in what they believe. “But if you see it in a theater setting, you’re not allowed to talk back. So I think that’s what’s really beneficial about this show,” Ashpes said.
True to what Kelso and Ashpes said, in 2019, society is vastly different from what it was ten years ago. Back then, it was considered taboo for a high school to put on a production covering topics such as sexuality rights. However, with society changing, becoming more open and accepting of individuals and championing for basic human rights, there are more opportunities to spread the idea of accepting others as they are, and this awareness can be spread in many different ways.
“To stop the problem, you can’t just say, ‘This is terrible,’” said theater student and sophomore Evan Josten. Josten explains that while they themselves know that violence and discrimination against any human is terrible, not everyone actually knows that they are, in fact, terrible. “It shows what people think and why they think [violence and discrimination] is correct when they are objectively wrong.”
However, not all people have been accepting of the heavier subject matters. Mr. Antonio Moon, Beckman’s theater teacher, explained that he received phone calls from angry parents after the production of “The Laramie Project.” They were not happy with the political and outspoken themes such as sexual orientation. However, Mr. Moon thought differently.
“Political and outspoken? My take on it is that [Beckman’s theater program] hasn’t [become suddenly political and outspoken],” Mr. Moon said. “The play that we did has nothing to do with politics. It’s life.”
Mr. Moon believes all the discrimination depicted in the play is happening today to a certain degree, whether it is discrimination against gender, race or sexual orientation. Therefore, he disagrees with the statement that, all of a sudden, Beckman theater got political because they are simply bringing attention to something that has been going on for a long time.
He also believes that as artists, theater students’ job is to affect people. People may be asking questions and claiming that they are being political, but Mr. Moon takes a firm stance. “We’re just showing a problem that’s been around and, unfortunately, is not going anywhere,” Mr. Moon said.
Ashpes agreed. “The murder of Matthew Shepherd happened twenty plus years ago, but there is still so much violence in our community today,” Ashpes said.
Kelso agreed with Ashpes.“What’s really awesome about Laramie is that it presents a problem but doesn’t just highlight one side of it.” Kelso believes that “The Laramie Project” tries to show all levels of the spectrum. It wasn’t just one person who influenced the murder of Matthew Shepherd. “The show is not just a dramatic reenactment of the beating. It is the retelling of the community’s reactions.”
But why “The Laramie Project?” Why did Beckman’s theater program decide to perform a show that contains controversial themes in a community like Irvine, a more conservative city?
“The fact that we’re talking about it is the reason I did it,” Mr. Moon said. “So much in high school, and especially in high school theater, directors don’t want to challenge their students.” He believes that instructors do not want to challenge their students’ critical thinking or are scared of parental reaction. However, he believes that this boldness is what’s needed in society.
Beckman’s theater program is not simply becoming more “political.” Rather, they are simply taking the opportunity to project their voices and open many eyes to issues that have already been happening, such as violence, murder, discrimination and hatred.
The fact that an article is being written on this topic, the fact that interviews are being conducted – that is exactly why Mr. Moon decided to choose a production like “The Laramie Project.”