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‘The Laramie Project’ Offers Look at Hate Crime and Its Origins

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By Caitlyn Stultz | cstultz4@radford.edu

The Laramie Project tells the story of the true reaction to the brutal murder in 1998 of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming.

Shepard was a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming. After the knowledge of Shepard’s homosexuality, the case sparked a national debate on hate crime laws. The play brings up topics such as homophobia, violence, and discrimination.

The show was written by Moisés Kaufman and the Members of Tectonic Theater Project and first premiered in 2000.

The Laramie Project is verbatim theatre, meaning the playwrights constructed the play from the exact words of people from interviews. This show, in particular, actually portrays many of the interviews conducted between the people of Laramie, Moisés Kaufman and the Members of Tectonic Theater Project.

On Oct. 16 and Oct. 18-21, Radford University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts and the School of Dance and Theatre presented The Laramie Project.

The cast consisted of eight Radford students and was also directed by senior Megan Ward. Most of the production staff also included students, ranging from first-year students to seniors.

Even though the show consists of only eight cast members, The Laramie Project still has of over sixty characters. Each actor plays many different roles, and the show contains many on-stage costume changes.

In Radford’s case, each actor mastered each of their characters. With the change of a hat or shirt, the actor became a completely different person.

Throughout the show, almost the entire audience laughed at some of the dialogue. Senior theatre major Mac McMullen, for example, receives this reaction with both his portrayal of Doc O’Connor and Matt Galloway.

Many of the audience members are also brought to tears during the performance. One of the most emotional scenes is from Joshua Garcia and his portrayal of Matthew’s father, Dennis Shepard after Matthew passed away in the hospital.

After the performance, the audience is invited to a talkback, where the audience asks questions to the actors and directors. Everyone is also encouraged to participate in a dialogue about the play and the topics presented during the show.

During the talkback after the Oct. 20 show, an audience member asked the actors if their views changed during the process of the production. McMullen said, “It did change my views in the sense that it humanized people. It helped me look past labels like that, and be able to look at, in this particular case, Matthew Shepard … the person.”

Another audience member asked how the cast felt portraying some the more homophobic characters.

Adiya Koram, a theatre student and actor in the play, said “I didn’t say as many hateful things as other characters did, but I did hold that sign. And I know when I went up there with that sign I felt that, wow, a lot of people do associate characters with that person … I felt I was exposed … It was kind of scary.”

During the show, the Westboro Baptist church protests Matthew Shepard’s funeral. Koram portrays one of the protesters and holds a sign which said, “AIDS CURES FAGS.”

McMullen added, “The way I get through it, is knowing that if I don’t make you guys feel uncomfortable [and] if I don’t seem like the most homophobic [and] bigoted person in the entire world, [then] it defeats the purpose.”

The Laramie Project may be one of the most controversial performances that Radford University has conducted. However, the response from Radford University and the surrounding community has been quite positive.

Devin Glasier, a junior theatre major and actor in the show, said, “I think that this story is extremely important. And a lot of the questions and feedback we’ve been getting is, ‘has this show changed your view on homosexuality,’ and the answer is that it hasn’t, growing up as a theatre kid I grew up in a place of acceptance. And I think it’s our jobs, as the ‘theatre kids’ to tell this story. We must, as Father Roger Schmidt said, ‘Do our best to say it correct’”

The play brings up topics still in debate today. Cases like Shepard’s still happen in the United States and throughout the world.

Photo Credit: (College of Visual & Performing Arts)

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