Written by Anthony Moujaes
The show must go on. That's why the Rev. Sid Fowler, pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., is offering to host two performances of a play that would have gone dark during the federal shutdown. The play, which was to be staged at the nearby Ford's Theatre, combats homophobia and teaches tolerance.
"The viewing of 'The Laramie Project' at First Congregational UCC in the midst of government shut-down answers the call for justice in so many ways," Fowler said. "The mission of our local church, strengthening the relationship with a downtown neighbor as Ford's Theater, calling for economic justice, and creating a safe world for LGBT people converge."
Ford's Theatre was shuttered as part of the federal government shut down on Oct. 1, one of numerous national monuments and parks across the country which had to close. That's why First Congregational offered its space in place of the historic and frequently-visited theatre, and on Oct. 4 and Oct. 8, Ford's Theatre Society (FTS) performances of The Laramie Project will go on.
"On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the Society was told that we cannot perform in Ford's Theatre during the government shutdown, even though we are a private non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that does not use any federal funding or federal employees for our programming," said Paul Tetreault, director of Ford's Theatre Society.
"We are grateful to our downtown neighbors at the First Congregational United Church of Christ for inviting us through their doors to tell this important story."
The Laramie Project performance deals with homophobia, discrimination and violence against LGBT people, by sharing the story of Matthew Shepard. Shepard was a gay University of Wyoming student who was beaten to death in 1998, and drew attention to the lack of hate-crime laws in the state.
"We're taking this day by day as we await events on the Hill," said Byron Adams, building manager of First Congregational. "Doing this is a no-brainer for us. It's part of our extravagant welcome, particularly for a neighbor in need, and continues our long-standing commitment to LGBT rights issues."
"This weekend will mark 15 years since Matthew Shepard's beating," said Tetreault. "That milestone will arrive regardless of what happens in Congress. We felt it was vital to find a way to continue telling this story now."
In the three days since Congress missed the deadline to pass a budget bill to fund the government, there hasn't been a vote by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on a bill that would end the ordeal. President Barack Obama on Thursday called on Speaker John Boehner to allow the House to vote on a "clean" bill – one that doesn't attempt to delay or defund the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which was passed in 2010 and is the sticking point in the budget battle.
The federal government shutdown has placed about 800,000 federal workers on unpaid furlough, while forcing others to work without pay. A majority of the members of Congress are either not accepting or are donating their paychecks during the shutdown.
Ford's Theatre, which celebrates the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln, reopened its doors in 1968, more than a hundred years after Lincoln's assassination. When Ford's Theatre is allowed to reopen, The Laramie Project will resume for its remaining shows scheduled through the end of October.