An Artist’s Response to the Westboro Protests at Juilliard

An Artist’s Response to the Westboro Protests at Juilliard

How art can serve as a catalyst against social injustice.

I attended schools of performing and visual arts since the fourth grade, studying musical theatre. I continue my theatre and music studies at University of Florida. As a heterosexual and cisgendered student in the arts, with many friends, teachers, and colleagues who identify as members of the LGBTQ community, I could not put into words how disgusted I am that a prestigious institute like the Juilliard School, a conservatory where uniquely brilliant minds collaborate as artists, could be targeted by the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church—a cult responsible for preaching anti-semitism, xenophobia, and homophobia.

The “Church,” founded by the late Fred Phelps, was responsible for various pickets at the funerals of fallen gay soldiers, and at memorials of Matthew Shepard and victims of the Pulse Orlando shooting. Shirley Phelps Roper, Fred’s daughter, claimed that WBC chose Juilliard as an arena to spread their prejudiced propaganda on the grounds that it was “the heart and soul of the arts community…” responsible for “filling the nation with proud sodomites.”

On Thursday, Nov. 3, members of the organization marched onto the 65th Street entrance of Juilliard’s Lincoln Center campus, sporting signs with phrases like “Repent or Perish,” “The World is Doomed,” and their most infamous and despicable slogan to date, “God Hates F—s.” These protestors were greeted by sixty to one hundred Juilliard students and artists from throughout the city.

Musicians, actors and dancers stood on the front lines, preparing to fight hate with love and expression. Singing and playing songs like “Amazing Grace,” “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and carrying signs reading “Sing a new song unto the Lord” and “Hell must be FABULOUS,” these students were armed with the power of music and creative expression to tackle words of intolerance. Students even presented an original performance piece entitled “God Loves Jazz” and a parody of a number from the musical “Hamilton.”

Through the works they displayed, these performers lived up to the words of Tony Award winning composer Jonathan Larson: “The opposite of war isn’t peace: it’s Creation.”

As an artist, I believe these counter protests prove that a song, dance, or piece of theatre can promote change or empowerment. I am proud of my fellow musicians and thespians for standing up against a self righteous and narrow-minded Westboro Baptist Church. Like the “Angels” responsible for blockading church pickets during the Matthew Shepard murder trial and memorial services of the Pulse victims, these students actively took a stand against a sea of smite using a dune breaker of pride.

All photographs were taken by Joey Lavarias, a Bachelor of Music (BM) Candidate in Bassoon Performance, courtesy of Odyssey contributor Ashley Williams.

Cover Image Credit: Photo Credit by Joey Lavarias, Courtesy of Ashley Williams
Cover Image Credit: Photo Credit by Joey Lavarias, Courtesy of Ashley Williams
Cover Image Credit: Photo Credit by Joey Lavarias, Courtesy of Ashley Williams

Popular Right Now

The Wrong Name Game

That's not my name, but it's close enough.

I've been aware for many years that my name is not something people hear every day. And because of this, I decided to keep a mental checklist of the most common and exciting names people have come up with instead of asking me what mine is again, as well as responding to anything that sounds similar. Keep in mind that some of these incidents happened at Chick-fil-a because my voice has a lower tone and I'm naturally quiet. But I'm sure I'm not the only one who has had this problem.

Starting with the most common mess up, a lot of people have called me Audrey. And I understand why. Audrey is the famous, sporty cousin to Audra. Am I categorizing my name as the nerd or outcast? No. But you hear Audrey a lot more, and even see it on nicknacks, unlike my experience of being disappointed at gift shops.Therefore, it's my number one.

The next has happened at least five times, and I'm not sure how, but different people have come up with Audrea. Maybe they heard the 'a' at the end, and it clicked. If this was a semi-common name, I might understand, but I've never heard the name before. So, upon hearing this a second time, I figured someone had this name, and I just never went to school with someone with it. And every time I hear it now, I respond anyway.

Then there is the fact I've been called Ann. Not only is it shorter than my name, but it sounds nothing like it. As much as I love going to Chick-fil-a, this one was a shocker. I had to do a double-take before realizing that they were referencing to me. And after acting like it didn't matter, even though I was confused, this one immediately made my list.

The last one is I've seen on my friend's phones, apparently put in the day we exchanged numbers: Adura. According to one of my female friends, she never thought about changing it. And I don't insist either. I know it is on more than one of their phones. I've probably done the same to others when I took their pronunciation and used that to spell their names out. So, honestly, I can't be upset.

This slight issue is something I'll have to face my entire life, even if I hold adults to a higher standard than kids with what I go by. If my cousin could say it when she was barely school age, it's probably not that hard of a name. But that's my personal opinion, isn't it? Everyone has issues with their name in some way, and that will be a trend for the rest of time. I just have to live with it.

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Black Girl Magic

The Power of Women

2018 is the year of change. The old societal rules that have existed to keep people down can no longer exist. One group that has been affected is black women. As one of the most under-represented groups in society, this year has become about showcasing the power of black women.

The movement isn't about bringing down other women, in fact, the black girl movement has come in allegiance with the MeToo and TimesUp movements. Black women in Hollywood have rallied around each other and help each other grow and showcase their talents.

Every day now the world is sent into shock over another "black" film turning into just simply a "blockbuster" film. From Get Out to Black Panther, and most recently A Wrinkle In Time there is no denying that black people can make films that appeal to a greater audience.

The female characters played by black women in films become heroes to the next generation who can now see themselves as leaders, but these actresses don't stop representing black women at the end of the film they bring this power into their real lives.

Lupita Nyong'o and Danai Gurira, two leading actresses in Black Panther, have continued to stand up and support other black women who are achieving great things.

Oprah Winfrey is one of the original icons for black girl magic because she was reaching success on tv and representing black women long before these movements.

Now she uses her platform to help support other black women and grow the empire. From acting and producing A Wrinkle In Time the largest budgeted movie with a black female director to showcasing people on her show.

She has had everyone from Elain Welteroth, to Yara Shahidi, and even Michelle Obama appear on her show to talk about their struggles in life, how they identify themselves, and where they want to see change not just for black women but for all of society.

Sorry men but the world stand on the backs of women. Women have run the world from behind closed doors for too long and we are finally making our debut. All I can do is stay true to who I am and hope to one day achieve a small portion of that success. I want to be able to surround myself with a strong group of people who understand and believe in the power of black girl magic.

Cover Image Credit: Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

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