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Laramie’s Lessons

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Out director stages play about Matthew Shepard’s murder in conservative Lake Jackson.

By Don Maines

Jay Adcock doesn’t have to look far to find inspiration for the production of The Laramie Project he is directing at Brazosport College in Lake Jackson next month.

Last fall, in nearby Clute, school officials looked the other way when Joel Mireles, the gay homecoming king at Brazoswood High School, was taunted on social media with the hashtag #NotMyKing. Mireles responded with a royal raspberry by wearing a #NotMyKing T-shirt to school—along with his crown.

“The kid is my hero,” Adcock says. “I do worry about bullying in the school system. That is why I think The Laramie Project is so important.”

In The Laramie Project, eight actors portray more than 60 characters, including out playwright Moisés Kaufman and fellow members of the Tectonic Theater Project. They traveled three times from New York to Wyoming to interview people about the savage 1998 hate-crime murder of Matthew Shepard.

A newsperson they interviewed told them, “People would like to think that what happened to Matthew was an exception to the rule, but it was an extreme version of what happens in our schools on a daily basis.”

Adcock, who is 47, lives openly but carefully as a gay man in Brazoria County. While just 50 miles south of Houston, it’s an area that Adcock describes as less than welcoming to people in the LGBTQ community.

In other words, it’s a place whose residents need to see The Laramie Project and take it to heart.

Adcock grew up in Brazoria County, graduating in 1988 from a private Christian school in Pearland. “It took me a long time to just figure out who I am. I had gone to counseling to try to ‘fix it.’ I tried ‘praying it away.’ It just didn’t work. Once I came out, it’s been unbelievable. It’s been like an explosion.”

However, Adcock admits that “it’s not easy to live truthfully here. I have some friends who are gay, but I have to go to Houston for a social life. I go to the ‘gayborhood’ on weekends and my days off. JR’s is the place I frequent—also The Eagle and Ripcord.”

The murder of Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, at the hands of two heterosexual strangers he met at a bar, is the extreme worst-case scenario for a gay man living in a small town, says Adcock. “But LGBTQ people live with this every day. We have to be aware of our surroundings. People will yell slurs at you.”

In Brazoria County, he says, “If I see someone I would like to talk to, if I’m not careful I could get myself killed.”

The play, which premiered in February 2000 at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, was adapted as an HBO movie that aired in March 2002. The film was named Outstanding Television Movie at the 2003 GLAAD Media Awards.

“I already knew about Matthew Shepard and I saw the movie, which is very good, but there is nothing like a live theater experience,” says Adcock. “The emotion and energy are something to experience. When it came my time to direct at Brazosport College, I thought, ‘This is the time to do it.’”

Adcock has found his place in the local theater scene—which in Brazoria County means acting at the Brazosport Center Stages in Clute and at Brazosport College in Lake Jackson. His proudest moment was portraying Uncle Charley in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, while his most taxing role, “both emotionally and physically,” was the Earl of Gloucester in William Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Adcock’s theatrical bio also boasts the role of Sir Bedevere in the musical Monty Python’s Spamalot, which Adcock says, “had some LGBT content in it.” Likewise, a Brazoria County production of John Cariano’s “very heartwarming” collection of nine short plays, Almost, Maine, included the story of two “country boys” who discover they love each other—although Adcock played the roles of two straight men in that show.

In Adcock’s three years out of the closet, he’s had one romantic fling with a fellow thespian in town. “We were quite interested in each other, and luckily we were both theater people, so we had that in common. Our personalities didn’t exactly click,” he says, “but we are still friends to this day.”

Meanwhile, Adcock has been busy promoting his upcoming production of The Laramie Project, including working with an LGBTQ group on the campus of Brazosport College and recruiting art students to create props for the show. “It is all I talk about,” he says. “I run around telling everybody about it. It’s really timely, and I think it will teach and touch and move people. That is what I really want to happen. It is such an important show, and after each Friday performance we will host a question-and-answer program where we can tell people what it was like for Matthew Shepard.”

What: The Laramie Project
When: April 19–28. Showtimes at 8 p.m., Thursday–Saturday.
Where: Seidule Drama Theatre (G-116), Brazosport College,  500 College Drive, Lake Jackson
Tickets: $5. Call 979.230.3271 for reservations.

This article appears in the March 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine. 

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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