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Informing the  Berea and Baldwin Wallace University Communities Since 1913

The Exponent

Informing the  Berea and Baldwin Wallace University Communities Since 1913

The Exponent

Informing the  Berea and Baldwin Wallace University Communities Since 1913

The Exponent

Students inspire audiences to ‘erase hate’ in verbatim theater piece ‘The Laramie Project’

In collaboration with Matthew Shepard Foundation, play recounts history of hate induced murder.
Benjamin Michael Hall
(left to right) Jennifer Jarvis and Troian Butler perform a scene from “The Laramie Project,” which premiered on Nov. 16 in the Loomis Acting Studio.

Baldwin Wallace theatre students recount the true story of a town in mourning in the aftermath of a hate crime in “The Laramie Project,” premiering in the Loomis Acting Studio Wednesday.     

“The Laramie Project” is a verbatim theatre piece created by the Tectonic Theater Project that draws on reactions of the true event of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. Classified as an anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime, this murder made national headlines and brought attention to the lack of hate crime laws in various states.   

Members of the Tectonic Theater Project interviewed hundreds of Laramie residents over the span of two years to create “The Laramie Project.” They interviewed the residents so that they could, as student director Eric Golovan said, “explore what this town was and the underlying bigotry that allowed such a horrible thing to happen.”  

Golovan, a B.F.A acting student, said he chose to direct “The Laramie Project” because he believed it is a story that has become important in recent times.  

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“I think that as a society we have not learned our lesson in how we’re treating people,” Golovan said. “We see so much horrible legislation now being passed that’s anti LGBTQ+ … and I strongly feel that we’re not doing enough to stop this from happening in the future.”  

This production will be performed in the Loomis Acting Studio, headed by production stage manager Kelsey Malone, a senior stage management student. The space will be set up as an alley stage with the audience on either side of the actors, seated in the corners of the room.  

It’s definitely a lot more intimate between the audience and the actors,” Malone said. “Just hearing the words so closely is going to be really important to the environment that we’re trying to make with Loomis.”  

The actors will all remain on stage throughout each act, portraying multiple Laramie residents. Because the play is verbatim, all the names used are real names, and all the dialogue comes directly from the interviews.    

Senior acting and directing student Da’Von McDonald said that it is very important to make sure that all his lines are said perfectly, because every word and stutter must be exact to the person that said it.  

“I really look at their dialogues and pull what I can about what kind of person they are based on how they talk, what they said or what was mentioned about them,” McDonald said. “Based on all that, I go and do some research … online because, since they are real people, it makes it even easier.”  

Because “The Laramie Project” involves so many characters, Golovan said he used an ensemble focused rehearsal process, where the students talk about each scene in great detail and share their thoughts on the different themes and ideas being explored.  

These characters represent a wide range of beliefs and attitudes toward the murder of Matthew Shepard and the circumstances surrounding it, but McDonald said each cast member had to find a way to accurately represent that person, even when the two have completely opposing views on the situation.  

“Everyone plays people who are so different from each other, so it’s been interesting to tap into and sympathize or empathize with a character that you may strongly disagree with their values and morals,” McDonald said. 

Golovan said that although many audience members may feel a hatred toward some of the characters in this play, it is important to realize that a person’s upbringing has a large impact on their behaviors.  

“They are products of their society, and it’s not necessarily their fault that they think these things, as is the case today because hate is a learned behavior,” Golovan said. “The only way we can grow from it is if we acknowledge our past and look to our future.”  

BW Theatre and Dance is collaborating with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, a program founded by Shepard’s parents that amplifies their son’s story, working to embrace equality and eliminate hate crimes based on any individual’s personal characteristics.  

“They have sent in a lot of resources and provided a lot of tools for us to give this story the sensitivity that it requires,” Golovan said. “We’re really grateful to them and we hope that people come see it to not only support the Department of Theatre and Dance but also the Matthew Shepard Foundation.”  

“The Laramie Project” runs Nov. 16-19 in the Loomis Acting Studio, and there will be a prize for the first ten people who arrive at each performance. Tickets are free for the general public.  

“I really do hope that everybody that comes to the show is moved and compelled to … erase hate, because that’s so important,” McDonald said. “It’s important that the people that leave [the show] leave with a new mindset and want to better their community and world, so that we can erase hate.” 

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