Is there no such thing as ‘bad publicity?’

Last summer, I guest-blogged a post over on The Next Stage that addressed a big controversy that was happening at Toronto’s Summer Works Festival. A group in the festival had written, and was performing a play about a man called Reverend Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. Westboro Baptist Church believes that being gay is wrong, and they make it their business to go out an picket and protest gay events, like theatre productions. They are pretty organized about this–on their website (I kid you not), they have a schedule of all their picketing dates. On November 28, they are scheduled to picket at our own Havana Theatre, the opening night of The Laramie Project, produced by Fighting Chance Productions.

Here’s the blurb from the Havana Website:

Ten years ago Matthew Shepherd, a gay University of Wyoming Student was viciously beaten and left to die tied to a fence under an cold October sky. 18 hours later he was discovered in a coma. Five days later he died. In the months following members of a theatre company conducted over 200 interviews with residences of Laramie, Wyoming about the reactions to the crime, and the trials that followed. This is that play. In September, 2008 members of that company returned to Laramie to re-interview residents as part of a “ten years later” epilogue to the piece.

n2980345636_2956n2980345636_29561Phelps and his gang hate this show–they regularly protest it no matter who is producing it. A local anti-protest-protest rally is being organized for an hour before Phelp’s is supposed to start. Last summer, he got turned away at the border, so it is possible the same thing will happen this time and he won’t show.

That’s the backstory. I had a conversation with Ryan Mooney, the producer of The Laramie Project last week, and he told me that he’d already sold 50% of his tickets for the run. This is, no doubt, in part, due to the publicity he has been getting surrounding the controversy.

I’m happy that Ryan is selling his tickets.  It’s my not-so-hidden agenda to promote and encourage theatre in this city. But quite honestly, I hate to give Rev. Phelps the time of day. He is a bigot, and bully, and my mom always taught me to ignore bullies. Sure, the publicity and attention is selling tickets to Ryan’s show, but it’s also driving traffic to, even if it is just for morbid curiosity. The thing with this kind of publicity is, that both parties get the benefit, and I would rather see Rev Phelps be ignored into obscurity.

Perhaps that’s unrealistic–after all, he started it, right? To continue with the schoolyard analogy, I’d also probably be encouraged to tell an adult if I was being bullied. And hopefully, the Canadian Government will be able to keep that bully away from us, so we can get on with our art in peace, and no one will get hurt.

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

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