By: Megan DeLaire
Algonquin performing arts students will face the challenge of keeping their emotions in check as they perform The Laramie Project for four days in April.
The heart-wrenching piece explores the reactions, recollections and opinions of people in Laramie, Wyoming following the brutal beating and murder of gay Wyoming University student Matthew Shepard. The production will run in the Studio Theatre in N-building at 7:30 p.m. from April 17 to 20, and 2 p.m. on April 21.
A work of verbatim theatre, all of the words spoken in The Laramie Project are those of real people in Laramie. These words were taken from interviews conducted in Laramie under the direction of playwright Moisés Kaufman by the Tectonic Theatre Project, a theatre company from New York. Throughout the two-hour production, 10 actors will read the words of 40 different people, many of whom will have recurring appearances.
“It’s particularly powerful because these are real people that are still alive and these are their real words,” said stage manager Erin MacDonald.
The cast have read through the script several times now and will spend a total of about 90 hours rehearsing at school over a period of four weeks. The biggest challenge to the actors will be to distance themselves from the heartbreak of the story enough to maintain composure while telling it.
“It has an incredible emotional impact or emotional effect on the reader,” said director Teri Loretto-Valentik. “Out of the 10 cast members, a stage manager and two designers, I think seven of them were bawling by the end of the first reading.”
Loretto-Valentik says the piece is especially relevant to students because Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was 21 years-old at the time of his death while his murderers were 21 and 22.
In a first for the theatre arts program, rather than a using a traditional set, three projectors will convey background images to provide context for the audience. At different points throughout the production images including a blue sky, the city of Laramie, the fence where Matthew Shepard was found and others will be projected. Text will also be projected for clarity.
“There are going to be a lot of flashing key words, names and dates,” said MacDonald. “It’s a very wordy show and I think it will help the audience better understand what’s going on if we can flash a few key words for them.”
The performing arts department will also be working with Jer’s Vision to promote the show. The organization runs anti-bullying and anti-discrimination programming across Canada in order to eliminate bullying, homophobia and other forms of discrimination from Canadian schools.
“I think this is a really important piece of theatre,” said MacDonald. “And I really hope that people will come out and see it and want to learn more about it after that, and the fact that this kind of thing is still happening.”