As Mr. Babb manufactured protests against his movies in an attempt to increase his success, I've long been suspicious of "Rev." Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. If I were a sodomite/lesbian activist, I would either pay Fred Phelps to caricature Christian opposition to perversion or, if he's actually sincere in his views, I would strongly encourage him to continue and encourage as much publicity for him as possible. As this backlog item from a year ago shows, he's not above sending nasty tweets to those involved with the production of a play he doesn't like. Usually "Rev." Phelps threatens to show up in person to protest an event and then chickens out after the resultant publicity, but on this occasion he was content to remain online. Perhaps he figured that it wouldn't be worth the bother of even threatening to show up in St. John's in January--or maybe he's unaware that Newfoundland is in Canada. As an aside, it should be pointed out that it's far from a proven fact that hatred of homosexuality was the main factor motivating the murderers of Matthew Shepard.
As reported by Laura Howells in the Memorial University of Newfoundland newspaper The Muse, January 9, 2013:
A local production of the Laramie Project recently received hate-messages from the Westboro Baptist Church.
The Laramie Project was a production put off by the MUN theatre class 4401 at the LSPU Hall.
The play tells the true story of Matthew Shepard, a 21 year old man who in 1998, was beaten and left to die for being gay. Shepard’s funeral was picketed by the notoriously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), who delivered such provocative messages as “God hates fags,” among other similar hate-slogans.
The church, led by its pastor Rev. Fred Phelps, has since gone on to picket the funerals of AIDS victims, American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many other institutions or individuals who the WBC deems to be “nation-destroying filth.”
The St. John’s production of the Laramie Project was protested online by Fred Phelps’ son, Fred Phelps Jr. Phelps sent the Laramie Project NL hate-messages via Twitter such as “LSPU Hall are a group of fag enablers” and “You will burn in Hell for all of eternity.”
Jon Aylward was the lighting designer for the Laramie Project. He says that the messages from the WBC were “some of the most vile messages [he'd] ever seen typed on a screen.”
“The cast and crew turned a blind eye to the whole thing,” said Aylward. “No matter what angle we took with it, Laramie was controversial before our involvement and will probably remain so for many decades to come. Our concern, first and foremost, was to tell the story.”
Aylward says that while the production was never about garnering a reaction from the WBC, it was certainly an invigorating experience.
“It was more exhilarating for us than anything else,” said Aylward. “[The WBC] are in the media all the time; they react to everything. But this time, ‘we’ were the ones that were creating that reaction! It was an empowering feeling for everyone.”
Aylward says that while the WBC’s reaction to the production certainly increased the project’s publicity, the play’s success was based solely on its own merit.
“Controversy helped to put people in the seats, but all the controversy in the world couldn’t have created those standing ovations.”