‘Laramie Project’ examines hate and hope
March 5, 2010
Kim Barber Knoll, Chair of the
Theatre Arts Department, was looking for something current and
contemporary for the College’s spring 2010 production.
She found her show in “The Laramie
Project,” which opens March 18 at Price Theater. The play is based on
the 1998 murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, a gay University of
Wyoming student. Shepard was severely beaten and left to die, tied to a
fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo. His death became a rallying
cry for hate-crime legislation across the country.
Five weeks after Shepard died,
playwright Moisés Kaufman and fellow members of the Tectonic Theater
Project went to Laramie and, over the course of the next year,
conducted more than 200 interviews with the townspeople. From those
interviews came “The Laramie Project,” a chronicle of the life of the
town in the year after the murder.
Today, “The Laramie Project” is one of the most-performed plays in America.
“This is a play that will resonate
with and, I think, truly affect an audience,” said Kim Barber Knoll,
the director and Chair of the Theatre Arts Department. “We are still
facing many of the same issues today that are brought to light in this
She said she started to get phone
calls from local actors interested in auditioning as soon as the season
was announced last spring.
“They wanted to be part of it,” she said.
“They feel, as I do, very strongly about the story that is being told
and about the incredible way in which it is told.”
The play is presented in an almost documentary style, with 60 characters telling their personal stories.
“The dialogue was not created’by a
playwright. The text was taken directly from interviews with Laramie
residents,” Barber Knoll said. “These are the words of the people of
Laramie. The play is less about Matthew’s murder and more about the life
and reaction of the town of Laramie after the crime.”
The cast of 30 features 19
students and 11 guest actors, including College alumni and faculty.
Three of the guests drive from the Atlanta area to appear in the show.
One of them is Toby Smallwood of Roswell, a 1997 graduate of the
“I grew up in a town out West that
was all white and full of hate,” he said. “I wanted to speak out
against that. The irony is that I was cast as a voice of hatred in the
play, but the message of hope is at the very heart of this show.”
Senior Sam Gambino said the cast feels a strong connection to the play because of its similarities to their own lives.
“In Laramie, the college and the
community are very closely related to each other, just like it is here
(in LaGrange),” she said.
Alumnus Ryan McWhorter, Class of 2000, agreed.
“We are a community that is very
similar to Laramie, with similar issues,” he said. “This play forces
you to examine what you believe and why.”
John Messerall, a guest actor from LaGrange, said the play isn’t written with a certain agenda in mind.
“It doesn’t have an ax to grind,”
he said. “There is a lot of latitude for the audience to come up with
their own thoughts and conclusions.”
Nate Tomsheck, Technical Director and Assistant Professor, said the play has a very personal resonance with him.
“I’m the same age as Matthew
Shepard, and I was in college out West when all of this happened,” he
said. “I was quite indifferent to it at the time. I wanted to do this
play because it allows me to examine my life and finally ask those
questions that I should have asked then.”
Performances will be at 7:30 p.m.
March 18-20 and March 25-27. The play contains explicit language and
mature subject matter. It is not intended for children.
For reservations, call the box
office at (706) 880-8080. In lieu of admission, patrons may make a
donation to The Matthew Shepard Foundation.