The Laramie Project in Wodonga
The Laramie Project is a true story about the savage beating and murder of a young gay university student in Laramie, Wyoming, in the United States.
The play focuses on the 21-year-old student Matthew Shepard, who died 51 days before his 22nd birthday after being bashed, tied to a fence and left to die on the outskirts of Laramie.
The murder was an obvious hate crime committed by two homophobic young men who were born and bred in Laramie. It was widely criticised and many Laramie residents argued that it didn't matter whether Shepard was gay or not.
Shepard's death on 12 October 1998 drew worldwide attention. Five weeks after his death members of the New York City-based Tectonic Theatre visited Laramie and conducted over two hundred interviews with residents of the small country town.
The result of these interviews was a play written by director Moises Kaufmen, which premiered in New York in 2000 and was later brought back to Laramie. It then went on to become the most performed play in America of the last decade.
The play explores all aspects and emotions of the community, but most importantly it tells the story of one town's ability to overcome a terrible tragedy.
About the Wodonga production
HotHouse is a theatre company based in Wodonga and Albury. I have been honoured to work with them under the artistic direction of Sebastian Pasche and Jon Halpin, and with such a talented ensemble of young actors.
The cast of the Wodonga production consisted of an ensemble of ten young actors, aged 16 to 25, from the region: Michael Asquith, Amber Bock (myself), Rachel Flanagan, Bella Johnston, Chantel Leseberg, Kathryn Lewis, Eva McEntee, Bam McFarlane, Flik Miles and Nathan Reynolds. The actors were selected as part of the HotHouse Studio program in early February 2011. This was the first production that we had performed together.
The Laramie Project was told and performed from 15-16 July 2011 in the intimate Wodonga Butter Factory Theatre. In such surroundings its story was undoubtedly heard and understood by every member of the audience.
When we first read the script in March, there were many emotions running around in everybody's head. I guess the main thing we were all thinking was that it could happen this very day to someone we know or perhaps evenone of us. Matthew Shepard was only 21 years old, which is very close to the age of the majority of the Studio players .
For me personally there were many mixed emotions. I cried the very first time I read the script and watched the movie. How could anyone commit such a crime to someone who appeared so young and innocent and especially to someone in their own town?
The play also opened my eyes to the hate that is out in the world. As one of the characters I played, Rulon Stacey, says, "I guess I never realised the magnitude with which some people hate." This sums up exactly how I felt during and after the performance
On the other hand, as a Christian myself, I struggled with the way faith is portrayed throughout the play. Some may know of Reverend Fred Phelps, who has become infamous for protesting at funerals of gay people or anything to do with that way of life.
He started his own organisation called God Hates Fags. Although I did not play his character myself, I found it spiritually hard to know what side I was on. I do not judge those who chose that lifestyle, but I follow the Christian ways. Being a part of The Laramie Project challenged my beliefs.
Actors, however, have to learn not to judge the characters they play, or the plays they perform for that matter. This has been the most amazing production I have ever been involved in, and despite my own feelings towards some of the characters (who are people in real life) I loved every minute of it. I guess that shows how well the play is written. There are always people that you dislike in life, and *The Laramie Project* brought them to life.
It was a journey that the whole cast took part in, and as the performance dates got closer and closer we had to trust not only ourselves but each other, that we certainly were going to do justice to the play.
The play was made up of 60 characters, and all of us took on multiple roles.. I myself played six roles, which involved many costumes and character changes. The constant changing of characters was something new for me as an actor.
Reflections on the performance
At times I ask myself why today's society is so judgmental, and people tell me that the only way to truly combat our societies prejudices is to raise awareness. But how do we go about bringing change when the hate seems so deep? I feel the answer is to inform (and by doing this, to educate) people through such plays as The Laramie Project.
Then you also have to be realistic. There are those who will watch these kind of plays for enjoyment, or to support an actor they might know, who will miss the message and the story we are trying to tell, and who will leave feeling the same way they did when they came in. You have to understand that you won't reach everyone, but the performance and the hope that I believe we created each night, was hopefully enough for those audience members to leave being touched by the story of Matthew Shepard.
It has been an amazing journey, from the very beginning when I first heard of the play to (deleted "the right now") this moment in time. To a certain extent I feel like I have made a difference in the northeast of Victoria.
It was an extraordinary experience working with such dedicated people who were determined to "tell the story right".
Articles Written by Amber
Reviews written by Amber
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