Local Musical Parodies Westboro Baptist Church to Fight Hate with Laughter

(L-toR) Dennis Hurley, Nick Stevens, Lynn Wilcott, Chris Boyajian, and Emily Laverdiere star in _“God Hates Musicals.”  Photo: Pablo Rojas

(L-toR) Dennis Hurley, Nick Stevens, Lynn Wilcott, Chris Boyajian, and Emily Laverdiere star in “God Hates Musicals.”
Photo: Pablo Rojas

By: Lauren Walleser/TRT Assistant Editor—

BOSTON, Mass.—With songs like “Raise Up Your Sign,” “Get Gay for God” and “The Truth of Love,” the new musical comedy “God  Hates Musicals” parodies the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), a Kansas-based congregation widely described as a hate group and monitored as such by the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center, who are perhaps most known for their picketing and protests of soldiers’ funerals as well as their anti-gay beliefs and slogans.

Joe Creedon, director and book writer of the musical, said he wrote the show in response to the WBC’s intent to protest the funerals of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

“After I heard of their intentions I became angry, which is obviously the reaction they fish for,” said Creedon. “Then I had the idea for the show, and I wasn’t angry anymore because I was laughing.”

Creedon explained that with satire, the goal is to take the power away from certain ideas by making them look ridiculous, thus lessening the impact they have in society. The show’s satirizing of “bigotry, biblical literalism and manipulative journalism” aim to do just that. [pullquote]Creedon explained that with satire, the goal is to take the power away from certain ideas by making them look ridiculous, thus lessening the impact they have in society. The show’s satirizing of “bigotry, biblical literalism and manipulative journalism” aim to do just that.[/pullquote]

“Art and theater shape social attitudes in a number of ways. Comedy is particularly effective at dispelling fear because it’s impossible to laugh and be afraid at the same time,” Creedon said. “Much of the success of comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are a testament to this theory.”

The musical weaves its parody of the WBC with an equally featured critique of the media, which Creedon said also plays its part in creating and spreading fear.

“The Westboro Baptist Church thrives off fear—fear of hell, fear of divine retribution, fear of outsiders—but so does contemporary mainstream reporting with its focus on sensationalism,” he said. “The goal of nearly every major news source is to please their advertisers by gaining as wide a viewership as possible. This is done by reporting ‘facts’ in emotionally potent snippets that fit snuggly between commercial ‘breaks.’ Fear plays as much a hand in the nightly news as it does in a typical Fred Phelps sermon.”

Bryan Daley stars as David Phelps, grandson of WBC founder Fred Phelps, who begins to question the church’s teachings as he comes to terms with his sexuality.

“I think the most unexpected discovery I made throughout working with the script and on the show is that I really do feel bad for

Back Row: Chris Boyajian, Nick Stevens, Dennis Hurley; Above middle row: Lynn Wilcott; Middle Row: Angelica Rosenthal, Bryan Daley, Autumn Gillette, Front: Leah Carnow  Photo:

Back Row: Chris Boyajian, Nick Stevens, Dennis Hurley; Above middle row: Lynn Wilcott; Middle Row: Angelica Rosenthal, Bryan Daley, Autumn Gillette, Front:
Leah Carnow
Photo:

these church members,” Daley said. “I remember the first time I spoke with Joe about my role and my character’s questioning of the church’s practices and he mentioned that the church was the only thing these people knew. Leaving the church means losing everyone they’ve ever known or loved, their only source of income, and what they call home. The thought kind of left a pit in my stomach and made me realize why these people born into the church don’t just pick up and leave the day they turn 18. I’d say the goal of the show is to educate as much as it is to entertain.”

While the show itself is strongly gay-themed, Daley shared that the cast and crew was also comprised of LGBTQ community members and Allies.

“It’s been a collaborative experience where we all have the same goal in mind: Don’t hate them, laugh at them,” said Daley. “And get as many people as possible to do the same. That’s how we’ll beat them.”

Bryan Dunn, the show’s composer, shared his own thoughts on the power of laughter to fight hate.

“Laughter allows performers to take a subject that may be divisive or difficult to find common ground on and force the audience to see it from a different point of view. It takes the negativity that may surround some ideas and forces an audience to laugh and look at it with a positive frame of mind,” said Dunn. “Ultimately, whether they realize it or not, they are all laughing at the same thing and it starts to emerge that there are so many more things that we all have in common than what we disagree about. When more audiences experience this, the more comfortable they are to talk about it and possibly make a change.”

The show’s lyricist Emily Laverdiere, who also played Judy Phelps in the show, agreed.

“Laughter is contagious, therefore making it a force to be reckoned with,” Laverdiere said. “Musical theatre already puts things in a very heightened reality for its characters, so a musical parody is the perfect way to heighten the ridiculousness of the way the WBC lives their everyday life in complete earnest.” [pullquote]According to a press release, the show received a surge of support including more than $8,500 raised through an IndieGoGo campaign to fully fund the musical, support on Twitter and Facebook, and even follows and mentions by the WBC itself that included an offer to provide signs for the show. [/pullquote]

According to a press release, the show received a surge of support including more than $8,500 raised through an IndieGoGo campaign to fully fund the musical, support on Twitter and Facebook, and even follows and mentions by the WBC itself that included an offer to provide signs for the show. Former WBC member and grandson of Fred Phelps, Zach Phelps-Roper, also offered public support on Twitter, communicated with the production team, and said he would make an effort to see the show after reading the script and watching the launch of the IndieGoGo campaign, though initially concerned with the portrayal of his family.

“This of course says quite a lot about the show and its content,” said Producer Pablo Rojas. “Zach obviously sees that the intent of the show isn’t just about poking fun at his family, but to address concrete issues about faith and love through a humorous vehicle.”

Creedon shared that he replaced the dialogue in his script with actual quotes from the WBC where possible, conducting research in order to give the musical parody “a ring of truth.”

“We’re hoping that the show gets produced again. I would personally very much like to see it produced in Kansas where the WBC is from,” said Creedon. “They do about eight protests a day in Topeka, so I think the Kansans would really respond to the show.”

“God Hates Musicals” ran at Boston University’s TheatreLab@855 August 13-24and was produced by Rojas (Improv Asylum, Catalyst Comedy) and the Ministry of Theater. Ministry of Theater is a general management and theater production company founded by Rojas that focuses on the theatrical works of small independent artists and companies and includes past

productions such as “Stories Without Roofs: Transitions” and “Roller Disco The Musical.” The production company owns and operates Catalyst Comedy in Fort Point Boston.

For more information about the fundraising campaign or the show, visit www.godhatesmusicals.org.

 

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