Douglas theatre students talk ‘The Laramie Project’
By Adam Tatelman, Arts Editor
On October 6, 1998, Matthew Shepard—a student at the University of Wyoming—was found severely beaten and tied to a fence, presumably victimized for being homosexual. The crime shocked the people of Laramie, Wyoming, a city known for its open gay community.
Following Shepard’s death, playwright Moisés Kaufman assembled the real life testimonies of Laramie’s citizens into a theatre script exploring the social tensions inflamed by the murder. According to Kaufman, the play has a basic structure, but the scenes can be performed in potentially any order, with each actor playing multiple characters, each of whom actually exists. According to the cast, this has been a novel experience compared to the usual theatre methods, and one full of interesting challenges.
“The play is written beautifully,” said Alice Knechtel, one of the student actors. “It has a very distinct rising action, climax, falling action—all those traditional story elements. But when you rehearse the play, a lot of the time you rehearse it out of sequence. Every character has their own arc that fits in the arc of the play.”
“Depending on the director’s vison, it can happen in different sequences,” fellow actor Jace Byers agrees, “Many times I’ve found there are scenes that could come before or after other scenes and still make sense. We can highlight certain aspects of what we want to say. In that way, the piece is timeless.”
“It’s not just a story,” said Logan Tower. “It’s a true event, so the way it portrays that is much clearer, more real.”
“We are often given a little more artistic liberty with creating characters,” said Nina Dosdall when asked about her experience in rehearsal, “but with this particular play, because we’re playing real people, I feel there’s more work required to do them service—to make sure that we are playing them to the best of our ability, honestly, and understanding what their experiences really were.”
“Everyone has a surreal moment when they realize can look up their character on Facebook and find out there’s a real Matt Galloway who lives in Wyoming,” Sean Brown said. “It adds amazing depth to the way you can think about a character. With most characters, you have to decide a life for them.”
“These characters are not actors. They’re real people, so you find whatever research you do within your body or in the text to make it as real as possible,” offered Noah Achielkene. “I try to think of the mind behind the person. If I’m reading a text, there has to be more than just that sentence. There are hidden messages in each line.”
“I like Zubaida Ula,” said Jaime Armstrong when asked if she had a favorite character. “Matthew Shepherd faces the struggles of being gay, and she has the struggles of being a different race in a one-race community. She faces difficult challenges that you can relate to Matthew Shepherd—the struggles against hate.”
The Laramie Project runs from March 18–24 in the Laura C. Muir Performing Arts Theatre at Douglas College’s New Westminster Campus. There will be a free preview on March 17 at 2 p.m. For more show times and tickets, visit thelaramieprojectdouglas.brownpapertickets.com