by Gissele Mora
Every year the CI Theater Program puts on a production. This year’s production, “The Laramie Project”, is a hard-hitting nonfictional story that takes place in 1998, where an incident happened that collided two worlds. The play is based on real-life interviews surrounding the murder of Matthew Shepherd.
According to the play’s manuscript, written by Moises Kaufman and The Tectonic Theater Company, Shepherd was a 21-year-old college student studying at the University of Wyoming. In October 1998, in Laramie, Wyoming, Shepherd took a car ride from two young men who later robbed him, tied him to a fence, beat him, tortured him and left him alone to die. He was discovered 18 hours later and rushed to the hospital, but he died 5 days later. The reason for this crime was because he had come out as gay.
According to an article on performingarts.vt.edu, The Tectonic Theater Project and their founder, Kaufman, went to Laramie. The play was created “through the use of documentary theater techniques, interviews and news reports…” This contemporary play was heavily influenced by the hate crimes, homophobia and sexual discrimination. It’s a take on true problems, and its shocking content can inspire change.
Laura Covault, the director of “The Laramie Project” production here at CI said, “This show has never left ‘relevant’…There’s a lot of things people can relate to, especially college students. I am hoping to get people who are professionals or have gone through things like this to lead us in a conversation…We need to talk about it in a careful and respectful way.”
In CI Theater’s production, the audience will be allowed to stay for the cast’s talkbacks. During the talkbacks, the audience and the cast members have a chat about how they felt or the cast can answer any of the audience’s questions.
Covault has a new take on this theater. “A lot of productions I’ve seen of this play is the actors just standing up and doing the monologues, which is fine, but from a stage that has a definite fourth wall,” she said. “So one of the things I wanted to do with this to make it feel like the audience is more involved—not just us talking to them—and for us to keep having this discussion is for us to keep breaking the fourth wall. (We need to talk) to people, get really close to them (and) be in the audience with them so that they feel really a part of it.”
The CI View had the opportunity to question cast members about this production of “The Laramie Project”. The cast members in this question and answer interview included: Tyler Charlotte Swayer, a junior performing arts dance major, Griffin Giboney, a freshman theater arts major, Riley Arnold, a sophomore early childhood studies major, Zachary Lotshaw, a senior liberal studies major, Chad Ricketts, a freshman theater arts major and DJ Elhadidy, a freshman psychology major.
Q: Why do you think people should watch this production, and what makes it important for them to see it?
Swayer: I think it will raise awareness for a problem that many people otherwise overlook. It was relevant in the future. Hate needs to be diminished and in order to accomplish that we must first acknowledge its presence. This show will make you feel things that demand to be felt.
Giboney: I think people should come see it because it is really eye opening. For those who do minimal research on the type of discrimination portrayed in the play and to see it firsthand five feet away from them I think is quite shocking and extremely important. For those who want to educate themselves but also just enjoy a night out to the theater, I think it is perfect.
Q: Do you believe these topics are relevant? Give some examples if you can.
Lotshaw: The production brings up this idea of “that doesn’t happen here, we raised our children right”. In wakes of mass shootings, what feels like almost daily, many of which brought on by hate and bigotry, this idea or mantra is almost demonstrably false for every community in this nation. So, it is very relevant in that just because at the surface we may think we don’t have a majority of loud-mouthed bigots out in the streets, or we are simply indifferent to the plight of minorities or, in the case of this production, LGBTQ folk. That doesn’t mean that, that hate and bigotry isn’t there. And this is more than just overt violence or even outward hatred. Simple negative comments about or against a community or identity is still hate. Just because we may believe hate crime is down, doesn’t mean that the hate isn’t.
Q: What has been the hardest or easiest part about being in this play?
Ricketts: The hardest part about being in this play is trying to understand why your character did the thing they did or said the thing they said, because we know nowadays we don’t really grow up around that kind of stuff. But an easy part about being in this play is meeting new people and making friends that will last a lifetime and getting to bond with people who love to do the same thing as you.
Q: How does this play affect you? What was it like for you to read it the first time?
Arnold: I think that reading this play for the first time brought out a lot of emotions for me from anger to sadness. Reading this play affected me because I started to see how these characters felt and all of the stuff they had to go through. Some parts in the play made me empathize with the characters and I even started to tear up.
Q: What is the most challenging part of connecting to your character(s)?
Elhadidy: I think the hardest part of connecting to my character is being forced to understand their actions. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning what Aaron McKinney did. But as an actor portraying the character, I must come to an understanding of why he would do such a thing and what series of events would leave him to commit such a crime.
If you are interested in watching the performance of “The Laramie Project”, it will take place on Nov. 14, 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23 in Malibu Hall Room 140. Individuals are able to book their tickets online to brownpapertickets.com. Just search “The Laramie Project CI” and the showtimes will appear.