September 22, 2015 | By Hailea Lamer, The Daily Mississippian
Powerful, eye-opening, and controversial. These three words can be used to describe “Teddy Ferrara,” the theater department’s first production of the season and the first-ever collegiate production of the play.
Director Rory Ledbetter said the play is “about student life, dealing with the pressures of student life and how that’s compounded when you add in gender identity and sexual identity into the equation.”
Written by Christopher Shinn, “Teddy Ferrara” is based on the true story of Tyler Clementi, a gay student at Rutgers University who was ruthlessly harassed by his roommate. The play explores and highlights serious problems with bullying and harassment towards homosexuality in young adults today and the effects they carry. In the play, Teddy is a closeted homosexual student who brings a male sexual partner to his room, only to find out that his roommate has been live-streaming and posting about his secret life on social media. Gabe is the other main character in the play. He is the president of the Queer Student Union, has his first boyfriend, and is torn about running for student body president against his supposedly straight best friend.
Ledbetter, who has directed 11 productions for the university, wanted to create a campus that resembles the University of Mississippi. The architecture of the buildings on set is similar to what one would see around campus. Like UM, the school colors are red and blue and the newspaper is called The Daily. He even went as far as creating characters that are based off students seen around campus.
“They’re looking at it, and they’re going, ‘Wow, this is something students are dealing with. This looks a lot like my campus,’” Ledbetter said. “It’s my hope that maybe it puts it into perspective where people are able to identify and understand things they had no idea about before.”
The play itself is considered to be very controversial for numerous reasons, however. Within the first five minutes of the play, the audience is exposed to a kiss between two males — along with many more homosexual references throughout the play. There are various ideas about gender identity and sexual identity and the discrimination that goes along with it written into the script. The play also brings up the debate about a community’s role in depression and suicide.
“You don’t really know what’s going on in people’s lives,” Max Mattox, senior musical theater major, said. “You’re texting someone, but what’s actually happening with them? It’s so real to people now. The lines are very believable, and the way that it’s written is very modern. People will be able to relate to it.”
The controversial topics covered in the play are expected to be uncomfortable for some audience members, but Ledbetter said he hopes they will start a conversation on our campus about LGBTQ issues, as well as raise awareness to the issues at hand and also present new ones. “Teddy Ferrara” is meant to show a whole new side of the LGBTQ community, and the cast has worked tirelessly preparing to present that to others.
Ledbetter wants everyone to be able to relate to the play in some way, whether he or she is overwhelmed, depressed or just connects with a character in the play.
“If there is somebody down the hall that a student thinks is weird or doesn’t quite fit into the norm, through this play they will have a better understanding that this person is a human being and has feelings,” Ledbetter said. “This person might be going through similar struggles in life that the other person might be going through, and compassion can go a long way.”
“Teddy Ferrara” will run from Sept. 23 to Oct. 4 at Meek Auditorium. Tickets are available at the Student Box Office inside the Union.