WATA ditches Mockingbird and takes on Laramie

Mehul Shrivastava, News Editor

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On December 8, Westford Academy Theater Arts made the sudden change of having the Laramie Project as the January production, instead of performing To Kill A Mockingbird, which had been the original plan.

Theater Arts Director Michael Towers wanted the production of To Kill A Mockingbird to be a realistic representation of what the book was meant to describe, and was concerned that if they did not have that precision of detail, the play would not mean everything it was supposed to.

“I was afraid of lack of authenticity,” said Towers.

Despite attempts made by Towers and other WATA members to recruit people for the play, they did not get enough response from student body to do To Kill A Mockingbird.

“We had lofty expectations and objectives, and we failed to meet them,” said Towers.

Many WATA members are surprised, but supportive of this decision.

“Personally I’m very happy with the change and think it was the right choice; it’s a very relevant show and one WA theater arts will be able to portray authentically,” senior Helen Copp said.

The director, Dennis Canty, has been the the president of the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild for two years, and in a year will move on to be the executive producer. Furthermore, he was a former student at Westford Academy and worked with Michael Towers, who overlooks all WATA productions as the artistic director. This is now Canty’s eighth year directing plays for WATA.

Junior assistant director Emily Crossley was found to be most qualified for assistant director after reading her application.

“Emily is a very hard-working, passionate artist, and she’s learning how to be a manager which is part of the assistant director responsibility,” Towers said.

The stage manager will be senior Talia Lambert, who was described by Towers as passionate and gifted.

Towers’ goal for the January production in particular was to do something related to the school’s curriculum, which is how To Kill A Mockingbird originally came around. The Laramie Project is a play that is part of Towers’ theater curriculum and covers a lot of the same values and morals as well.

The Laramie Project is a true story that took place in Laramie, Wyoming, and investigated the community after the murder of Matthew Sheppard.

This incident coined the term ‘hate crime’ due to the fact that Sheppard was allegedly killed because he was a gay man.

The play is originally by Tectonic Theater Company from New York, and they had gone to Laramie to investigate the event. Every line is almost exactly from interviews they had conducted with the people of Laramie as well as public records and recorded dialogue.

Towers found this play to be significant to Westford after the events of 2010, where two murder-suicides occured within ten days of each other, and one of the murder victims was a Westford Academy student.

“Within ten days Westford was Laramie. The whole world was like ‘What kind of a place is Westford Massachusetts, that there’s not just one, but two incidents within ten days of each other?'” Towers said.

The play isn’t meant to completely focus on hate crimes against sexuality, but a community’s response to that sort of incident, as well as the generalization of the community by the rest of the world due to a crime by a few individuals. It is also meant to further explore and inform about the Laramie incident in particular, and how it connects to what happened in Westford.

“I, and you, and our families, were branded as a result,” Towers said.

The Laramie Project was the most widely produced play in America at one point in time. WATA decided to do it now because everybody had done it in the past, and they wanted to bring it back.

Towers’ goal is to convey the same message to viewers as To Kill A Mockingbird would have – the importance of compassion, not making decisions and judgments based on prejudices, as well as why an entire community was judged based on one incident involving a few individuals.

“I want people to ask themselves the question ‘how, and why, do I treat people the way that I do or communities of people the way I do?'” Towers said.

Students also agree with Towers that The Laramie Project is going to be a play that will impact the viewers.

“I hope that The Laramie Project resonates with people and brings about much needed conversation,” senior Alisha Sodhi said.

Furthermore, Towers wants the people involves in WATA to know that what he did was for their best interest, and he will try to do To Kill A Mockingbird sometime in the future.

“What I want for people to know about me, particularly my people, to know about me, is that every decision I make, I make in the best interest of this small community, the larger Westford Academy community and the larger Westford community,” Towers said.