“LARAMIE” SHOWS HOW FAR WE’VE COME
At SCC, everyone’s rights are supported.
No matter their identity, who they love or want, what religion they honor or the color of their skin — everyone should be accepted for who they are.
SCC’s theater students will be performing in the “The Laramie Project,” which debuts on March 8. The production will be directed by experienced actor and instructor Debra Pralle.
The new play centralizes around the murder of openly gay student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., and the aftermath of Shepard’s death, where the residents of Laramie are interviewed by the New York Tectonic Theater Company about the tragic issue.
“The reason it’s called ‘The Laramie Project’ is because this is a compilation of all of those interviews,” Pralle said.
I recently sat down with Pralle as she explained what “Laramie” was all about.
Azia Lualhati: So, I don’t have any knowledge about what “Laramie” is about… How about you tell me, Debra, what it’s all about?
Debra Pralle: Sure. So, the “Laramie Project” is a play that focuses on the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998. Now, I don’t want to say the play focuses on his murder, but the play actually focuses on the fact that Matthew Shepard was taken out of a bar in Wyoming by two young men, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney.
They took him out to the outskirts of town, they beat him with a gun and their sts, they tied him to a fence, they continued to beat him and they left him for dead. They did this primarily because he was gay. And they wanted to rob him and they wanted to show him that it wasn’t acceptable.
So they left him for dead. About 15 hours later, a young man just happened to be biking out there and saw him. Matthew was barely alive, but he was alive. They called the police, the police brought him back, they took him to a hospital — seven days later he died of complications from the beating. But what happened was that this was a real pivotal moment in American history. Twenty years ago, it’s the 20th anniversary of his death.
Only 20 years? Wow.
Twenty years old. At the time he was 20 years old, just a couple months shy of his 21st birthday when he was murdered.
But it brought national attention to this issue. Is this a hate crime? You know, if you kill somebody because they’re gay or if you kill somebody because they’re black or
if, you know, if there’s an agenda, does that count as a hate crime?
And it just… I think what was pivotal about it is that we thought these things don’t happen. But they do happen. We proved that it happens.
So the Tectonic Theater Company — which is a theater company out of
New York — wanted to go to Laramie and they just wanted to interview people, they just wanted to understand what happened and who the people of this town were because Laramie became like Waco, Texas.
Do you remember in Jasper, Texas when that black man was dragged in a truck until he died? So Jasper became like, ’Oh, god, Jasper, Texas.’ That became a name.
And Laramie became a name. A name associated with people who beat to death gay people.
So the theater company came in and over a course
of a year they interviewed hundreds of people who knew Matthew, who didn’t know Matthew but just lived in the same city, and they compiled all of those interviews into the show.
So most of what you’re going to see is actual interviews with real people. Everybody that’s in this play is a real person.
I just want to emphasize that this show is not about reenacting the death of Matthew Shepard, that’s not what it is. Yeah, it’s really more about how theater can bring about social change. It’s what it should do, you know what I mean? Theater can be entertaining and that’s great, but it can also really reflect on a moment in history and I think that’s what it does.
It’s a very balanced perspective. We meet over 70 people in this play. So I have 15 actors playing 70 people. You get so many perspectives about what happened.
You have 15 actors playing 70 people?
Yeah, and normally you have eight. But I have 14 and a narrator, so everybody in the show is playing multiple characters.
Yeah! It’s really exciting!
How have the actors and actresses taken to this project? I’m sitting here listening with my heart palpitating! How are they taking to this? What is their experience?
You know, it’s funny. They’re doing really well. Their first big challenge is just trying to differentiate characters from one from the other so you know they’re doing someone else without making big changes.
But I think it’s been really eye-opening to be playing characters that just say things that… they don’t agree with, you know? But their challenge as an actor is to completely own that, not judge them and to understand how that person feels and why they said the things that they said and portray that truth.
So, yeah, but I think for the most part they’re doing okay now. We’re still in the stages where we haven’t added lights and costumes and sound effects. Oh, yeah, it’s going to be a mess. This is the second time I’ve directed the show and when we got into tech? They were just bawling. *laughs*
It took a week for them to get past certain things, but that’s good, you know? It’s an emotional show.
But it’s very hopeful. The whole thing centers on hope. It centers on the fact that here we are 20 years later and we’ve made incredible progress.
The LGBTQ community have laws that have been passed, they can get married, you know, there’s just more public awareness. But it’s not over, as this administration has clearly stated, that the fight is not over.
So that’s why we’re doing this show so we can commemorate 20 years and also just, you know, we’re not there but we’re getting there!
I’m definitely excited to see it!
Yes! It’s a light-hearted comic flop! We dance and sing! *laughs* But yes, there are some tough moments to get through. There’s a monologue that Matthew Shepard’s father read at the trial of Aaron McKinney. He was guilty and he could’ve been put to death.
They actually let the family read a statement about whether or not he should’ve been put to death or not and there’s a letter in there that Matthew’s dad said to them. And it’s, it’s… I can’t get through it! I don’t even have an actor playing it — I’m doing it in voiceover. It’s really tough, because he says, “I would love nothing more than for you to be put to death,” is what his dad said.
“But that’s not what my son would’ve wanted. So, you’re gonna live and you’re gonna remember every day that you’re alive because of Matthew. That’s why you’re alive.” See, I can’t even talk about it! Agh! *laughs in frustration*
So it’s going to be really emotional but it’s also really hopeful and there’s
a monologue in here that someone is going to relate to.
“The Laramie Project” will be having a free preview of their show, starting at 7:30 p.m. on March 7 in the 1600 Building. The preview is free and will last close to two hours, so everyone is welcome to have a taste of the production before opening night on March 8.
The show will run from March 8-10 and March 15-17 from 7:30-10:30 p.m. General admission costs $16, non-SCC students/seniors/ children costs $12 and SCC students pay $10.
By Azia Lualhati,
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Photos by Trina Griffin