The Ottumwa Courier

September 9, 2013

Supporters: Why ban play?

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — There were some tough questions for the Ottumwa school board at their meeting Monday. One that seemed to draw the biggest crowd: What's the thought process behind banning "The Laramie Project" play?

Most speakers about the play were disappointed in the district decision not to allow The Laramie Project at the Ottumwa High School

Superintendent Davis Eidahl had previously said while he had nothing against the play itself, he wanted the district to concentrate on the production of plays with a more family-friendly theme.

The play revolves around one town's reaction to the beating death of 21-year-old gay college student Matthew Shepard. Supporters say the play shows how being different can cause any of us to be hatefully targeted, and how everyday people react to tragedy when someone who is different is the victim. Detractors call it a play that supports acceptance of a gay person's inappropriate lifestyle, as well as a very adult-themed production not appropriate for high school kids.

After several supporters of the play spoke, a different type of supporter said he wanted to thank Davis Eidahl for his leadership.

Bryan Wyldes said some plays are not meant for kids. And not just young children, but high school students who will perform in the production. Parents and schools, he said, are tasked with presenting youngsters with age-appropriate material. He is glad that Eidahl's integrity means his tax dollars aren't going to support something morally inappropriate.

School board members, can't we discuss this, asked Dale Dommer.

Dommer is one of the people working to produce the play outside of the high school.

"I was hoping to get some clarity on why this decision was made. I have heard nothing," he said.

The bad language has been cut because he and co-producers are aware that young people will be involved, he said.

But it would have been better at the school; this is not the win-win situation some may want to believe. The production will cost $8,000 more than if produced at Ottumwa High School. One supporter said allowing students in for free is not financially feasible now.

One board member had previously said they didn't hire a superintendent in order to micromanage every decision he's faced with during the school year. Dommer said that doesn't fly with him.

"I hold you all accountable for [Eidahl's] actions!" he said Monday.

Educator Jennifer Boyenga directed the play years ago, she said, and knows it inside out. Her opinion: This is one of those rare plays that can get a productive dialogue started in a community. High school students could benefit from such an educational production, she told the board.

Though the play wasn't added to Monday's agenda, Boyenga said she felt as if she was heard.

"Payson [Moreland, board vice president] put forth a request it be looked into. They'll discuss it in some form," she said after the meeting Monday night. "Not just The Laramie Project, but also, a discussion of the play selection process … for future plays."

To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark