A few weeks ago I wrote a "State of the Arts" story about Burlington playwright James Lantz being invited to take his play, The Bus, to an off-Broadway venue called 59E59 Theaters. In the piece, I mentioned that Lantz would be fundraising to make that happen. He was a little vague at the time about how that was going to work; he was still brainstorming on it, Lantz told me.
This week, he announced his plan, and it has a surprising twist. More on that in a sec.
The unsurprising part is that Lantz decided to use Kickstarter, a web funding platform that helps people who have a creative idea, but no money, to raise some. Actually, the site helps people help themselves by describing their project/need and inviting other people to send them pledges. And despite all the scams and evil in the world, loads of generous folks are indeed sending in bucks to support ideas they like.
Of course, now that CNN's Anderson Cooper (among others) has done a piece on New York City-based Kickstarter, every person in the entire world who believes he or she has an idea worth funding will be using it. But good for Kickstarter; it's a great idea that saves the unmonied from the humiliation of begging bankers (or mom and dad) for loans, not to mention the huge bummer of being rejected. Those who don't present good ideas on Kickstarter, though, may be surprised to find that altruism only goes so far.
Anyway, Lantz has a good enough reason to solicit money: getting his small indie play from Vermont to a NYC stage would be pretty cool. But he's not relying on good will alone. Lantz's twist relies on rousing the power of hatred. Let me explain.
The Bus centers around two adolescent boys who are, let's say, exploring their sexual orientation. They are on the verge of becoming exactly the kind of humans the Phelps family of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., love to hate. In fact, the Phelps family is fond of penning authoritative expressions such as "God hates fags" on their protest signs. Cuz, of course, they are authorities on what God thinks.
Thanks, or apologies, to Seven Days reporter Lauren Ober, who took a bunch of pics in September 2009 (one of which I'm appropriating here) at a same-sex-marriage rally in Montpelier, which the Phelps clan attended. And when you're done reading this blog post, you should take the time to go back and read hers, called "Hatin' with the Phelpses."
So. James Lantz is asking for money to not only take his play to 59E59 but to friggin' Topeka, so as to perform it right in the faces, so to speak, of the haters. It was a very clever tactic. The usual social media has been deployed and, today, the national gay blog Queerty expressed interest in writing about it.
In addition, Lantz sent a polite email letter to the WBC itself. Here it is:
Dear Westboro Baptist Church,
I'm a playwright and I wanted to let you know that I'm bringing my
play about religion and teen homosexuality to Topeka that I intend to
produce as close as I can get to your church. The play is called The
Bus and I will be bringing it to your area, respectfully — it is,
however, a play that goes counter to what you preach. My play speaks
to the challenges gay teens face when they encounter intransigent
religious views on homosexuality.
Unlike you, I believe God is accepting of homosexuality and I see His
hand in the fight for gay rights everyday. Like you, I will be
exercising my right to free speech when we come to Kansas.
Jim Lantz, Playwright/Producer
And here is the WBC's response:
We have read of your plans. We look forward to seeing the fruits of your
labor. Let us know if we can help here in Topeka.
Unlike you, though, we actually read and believe the Bible on these weighty
matters of life and death. You call it "intransigent"; the Bible calls it
steadfast and unmovable.
Like you, we too see God's Almighty Hand — in the ongoing and marvelous
destruction of this sodomite nation.
We appreciate your efforts and thanks for writing.
The letter is brief and unsigned, perhaps even a form letter. Maybe the Phelpses were just too busy preparing for this weekend's Rapture rave-up to get exercised over a play about fictional gay teens. Who can say?
What we can say is that Lantz is getting the attention he sought. Let's hope it translates into the bucks he needs for The Bus to travel — to both destinations.
To see the video and the Kickstarter request, click here.