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August 9, 2013

'Laramie Project' pushes forward

OTTUMWA — Auditions for "The Laramie Project" are on the horizon, and the play's leaders hope school administrators have learned their lesson.

The play looks at the Laramie, Wyo. community's reaction to the murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, in 1998. His murder brought attention to hate crimes across the nation. Last month, Ottumwa schools superintendent Davis Eidahl announced that the play would not be allowed to be performed by the Ottumwa High School drama department.

"The production in and of itself will go on, and the message still gets out there, which is important," said Dale Dommer, who is directing the play at Bridge View Center. "The problem I have, and I don't know why Davis doesn't see this, is the message we give by not allowing it in the school — and that's what he's missing. The message he sends by not allowing it is a much greater message to everybody."

OHS drama teacher Natalie Saunders said in the 20 years she's directed school plays, this is the first to be banned.

Dommer called Eidahl's refusal to allow the play censorship.

"We're using Matthew Shepard's story as a medium," he said. "It could be any black, Jewish or gay person, it doesn't matter. It's not about Matthew, it's not about Natalie or me or Davis, it's about humanity."

Dommer said he's upset Eidahl "can't see what he has done" and that in today's society, producing the play is not controversial — banning it is.

"Davis is a bully, whether he wants to recognize that or not," Dommer said. "Right, wrong or indifferent, our school system is in a bad way and they're not going to tell you that, but it is."

While homophobia still pervades, Dommer said calling southeast Iowa "homophobic" is a false blanket statement.

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