The fine art of social justice

Part of the fun of blogging is checking out other people’s blogs. Wednesday I was on “The White House Blog” (, which opened with these words: “Today the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act became law…a victory decades in the making and steeped in blood and pain.” The law adds federal protections against crimes based on gender, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation.

“I remember when Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming,” reflects A. Beck, Director of Education for Phoenix Theatre and Founder/Director for QSpeak Theatre (which writes and produces works about “what it is like to live as an LGBTQ young person in the Valley today.”)

Shepard, a 21-year old gay college student, was savagely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in October of 1998. Beck recalls: “Growing up in a small, rural community in Nebraska, this crime felt very close to home. It was only a few years earlier that Brandon Teena was murdered in my home state for living as a transgendered teen.”

After Shepard’s murder, Moises Kaufman and fellow company members from Tectonic Theater Project in New York, repeatedly traveled to Laramie to interview residents. They also studied court documents and media coverage of the event—which they refer to as “a watershed historical moment in civil rights in America.” The result was the 1999 play “The Laramie Project.”

Last weekend Beck, along with a member of the Tectonic Theater Project, Kelli Simpkins, led a three-day workshop for 19 local youth ages 14-22. My 16-year-old Lizabeth was among them. She’s always been deeply moved by works with social justice themes—such as Rent (which addresses HIV/AIDS, homelessness and substance abuse) and Urinetown (which addresses scarce resources and their unjust distribution).

We’re fortunate to have several local theater companies that tackle these types of works. Two of our favorites from last season were Columbinus by Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe (which addressed the tragedy at Columbine High School in Colorado) and Closet Drama by Chyro Arts Venue in Scottsdale (which addressed religious extremism and sexuality). Lizabeth shared with me that she enjoys these types of works because they allow her to explore issues that people sometimes have a hard time talking about.

On October 12th we had the privilege of participating in a one-of-a-kind theater event as Tectonic Theater Project presented “The Laramie Project Epilogue” at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York. We saw one of more than 120 simultaneous readings of the work presented at universities, stages and theaters nationwide—including the University of Arizona in Tucson and Arizona State University in Tempe—which included a live feed of remarks and discussion occurring in New York before and after the reading.

If you’ve never seen The Laramie Project (or even if you have), you’ll have the opportunity this spring when Greasepaint Youtheatre and QSpeak Theatre (both affiliated with Phoenix Theatre) present the piece. It’s a great opportunity to witness the fine art of social justice, and to see the unique approach to theater—called “moment work”—that makes this play so powerful and unique.

But you won’t have to wait that long to enjoy a piece of controversial theater in the Valley. Scottsdale Community College Theatre Arts and ImageMakers Theatre Club just debuted a new work called “Distracted,” written by Lisa Loomer and directed by Randy Messersmith. SCC describes the work as “a fast-paced and disarmingly funny look at parenting in the age of the Internet and Ritalin.”

For location and show dates/times, visit or call the Theatre Artists Studio at 480-423-6359. (Please note that the show contains strong language and mature content, and is therefore not recommended for students under age 16. There are just a few shows and the venue is small–so check on tickets right away if you want to be in on this!)

If you’ve seen The Laramie Project and/or the Epilogue, I’d love to read your comments about the works. Also let me know if you have comments to share after seeing “Distracted.”

Tomorrow I’ll continue the theme of theater and social justice by sharing resources for parents, students and teachers who want to learn more—and tell you a bit more about QSpeak Theatre.

As always, I invite you to send comments about the shows you recommend and the deals you are finding out there!


Coming Soon: Childsplay, Valley Youth Theatre and other family-friendly theater companies

Update: I’m now blogging as “Stage Mom Musings” at Please find and follow me there to continue receiving posts about arts and culture in Arizona and beyond. Thanks for your patience as the tech fairies work to move all 1,250+ posts to the new site. For the latest news follow me on Twitter @stagemommusings. 6/13/12


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