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Theatre company in debt, facing closure

Group urges people to come out to Laramie Project

TOUGH TIMES. Fighting Chance Productions sold-out its earlier performances of the Laramie Project, but recent shows have not been well attended. Credit: Fighting Chance Productions

The Vancouver theatre company that was threatened with a protest by US religious extremists over its staging of the controversial play, The Laramie Project, may have to close its doors due to declining audiences.

And, that could happen as soon as Jan 31 if things don’t pick up, says director Ryan Mooney.

“People definitely seemed interested in more performances,” Mooney says.

“Whether it’s the lack of publicity … or the economy, we just haven’t been getting bums in seats like we were,” he adds.

Fighting Chance Productions has been staging various productions for the past two years.

However, it received international attention when Pastor Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church threatened to picket the November opening of the play.

Phelps operates the godhatesfags.com website which listed the Vancouver opening as a protest site.

The threat from the Topeka, Kansas church brought out hundreds of queers and their supporters in support of Fighting Chance.

Phelps and his supporters never turned up.

But, even though people asked for more performances, the audiences didn’t materialize.

“It’s not fun playing to less people than are on stage, which has been the case a couple of times,” Mooney says

Moises Kaufman’s play is based on more than 200 interviews with Laramie, Wyoming residents following the brutal killing of gay student Matthew Shepard.

It captures the emotions and reactions of the people closest to the crime.

And, says Mooney, the cast is “incredibly keen” to continue telling the story.

On Oct 7, 1998, Shepard, 21, met two men in a Laramie, Wyoming bar. The men pretended that they were gay, and offered Shepard a ride home.

Instead, Russell Arthur Henderson and Aaron James McKinney drove the slight student to a ranch outside of Laramie, pistol whipped him, tied him to a fence pole, and left him.

Eighteen hours later, a cyclist came by, and after the horrific realization that Shepard was not a scarecrow, called police.

Shepard died in a Colorado hospital of severe head injuries five days later.

Church members then picketed his funeral in front of his grieving parents.

The murder brought international attention to the issue of hate crimes.

And, Kaufman’s play is part of that raising of awareness.

Mooney says the publicity around the Phelps’ threat lead to sold-out shows.

However, the numbers later haven’t materialized, and the company is now in debt.

“Unless the shows start to pick up in audiences, we may need to take a step back and look at shutting Fighting Chance down,” Mooney says. “This would be devastating for me.”

“I try my best to support other groups as often as I can — not just by going to the shows but by paying to be there — and now I’m asking you — as hard as it is, to try to help us,” he says.

The Laramie Project is on stage this week Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, with a matinee performance at 2pm on Saturday.