Article Title:On Stage: Corner of 4am and Cuba
Author or Credit:Matt Akersten
Published on:10th April 2007 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:1664
Text:With his purple hair, green fingernails and a daring playfulness, schoolboy Jeff added his own colour to Wellington's Cuba Street milieu. Early on the morning of the 8th of May 1999, he was found beaten and close to death in a nearby side street. He died the next day. Jeff was 14 years old. During the trial, New Zealanders learned his attackers may have thought he was gay. Now, director Ronald Nelson is bringing the story of this brutal murder to Wellington's BATS theatre stage. “It just needs to be remembered,” he explains. The project began a year ago. Ten people came together seeking to explore fundamental questions about Jeff's murder and the effect it had on the community around Cuba Street. “I got a group of enthusiastic and well-researched auditionees – people came to the rehearsal knowing what the show was about. So they came in passionate about the project, “ says Ronald. “We were quite careful not to just treat Jeff as simply a murder victim. We interviewed his family, teachers and friends – he was somebody's son, somebody's brother, and somebody's best mate. I feel so sorry for a 14 or 15 year old who has to deal with their mate getting brutally murdered. Adolescence is tough enough to begin with, you know?” The project had the memorable working title ‘The Faggot was Bleeding out of Places I have Never Seen Before'. Ronald explains it: “The attackers beat Jeff, and then went to a brothel, and then went back to their houses and were quoted as saying ‘The faggot was bleeding out of places I never heard of before', ‘I just fucked up a faggot', and ‘that faggot shouldn't have talked back'. They were said to be laughing when they were saying these things. It was just a huge quote that always stayed with me.” The original title had shock value, but it was too disturbing for a lot of people, continues Ronald. “So we wanted something a little bit more metaphorical. Also, we're talking about a 14-year-old boy here – we want to be respectful of him and his memory.” This new production may bring to mind the fatal homophobic attack on American student Matthew Shepard in 1998 – brought to stage and screen in ‘The Laramie Project'. Ronald saw the Shepard story on New York's Broadway, but the fact that several theatre groups in New Zealand have also staged it disturbs him, as “we have our own stories – and they are just as ugly as the Matt Shepard story. “Our country has a long and sad history of cases just like that of Jeff. At best, the killers of these men who have used the ‘homosexual panic' defense have got off with a lighter sentence or had their charges downgraded to manslaughter. At worst, they've been let off scot-free.” The production couldn't have got off and running without a substantial grant from the Gay Auckland Business Association. “They gave us $4,000 to help make the show,” says Ronald. “We're pleased as punch – they normally never give that much money out to something outside of Auckland.” All being well, Ronald hopes to bring ‘Corner of 4am and Cuba' to Auckland during next summer's Hero Festival. The Wheelbarrow Group presents: Corner of 4am Matt Akersten - 10th April 2007    
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