Maplewood Richmond Heights students opened The Laramie Project Thursday night to more than a hundred in the MRH Auditorium.
The actors found out that morning that members of the Westboro Baptist Church are coming to picket in front of the school before the Saturday matinee. The play looks into the events around the murder of Mathew Shepard, a gay student in Laramie, Wyoming.
Director, Holly Potthoff called it surreal that there’s Rev. Fred Phelps on stage and the real Phelps is planning on picketing outside.
“To me it just makes it more relevant for our students,” she said.
Natalie Mitten said she thought a lot of the cast was thrilled when they learned Westboro Baptist is coming to picket the show on Saturday.
“I think it means that we’re doing something right if they take us seriously enough to come picket,” she said. “We’re getting the message across and it’s scaring them.”
Mitten is a member of the MRH Gay Straight Alliance, which is planning a counter rally, but said she and the other cast members would have to focus on the play, rather than taking part in the counter-protest.
“I have a lot of faith that our cast and our school will represent us well. We intend on being totally peaceful and focused on doing our thing, and doing it well."
Cast member Nelson Ricks, also a member of the GSA, said protests like the Westboro Baptist protest on Saturday is a result of ignorance.
“We’ve been battling with this kind of thing for years and years and it’s still not acceptable,” he said. “It’s weird to me that people still have these same ideas that gay isn’t right. I just think that it’s unnecessary.”
He said now that Westboro is coming, it puts more pressure on the play to be fantastic.
Cast member Nia Walker said she’s not worried about Westboro coming at all because they’re doing the play for a reason.
“The cast is very happy we are doing this play because we have a lot of gay people here,” she said. “They shouldn’t be treated this way at all,” she said.
“What happened to Mathew was really bad,” she said. “So why torture them when they’re just like us?”