Ottawa
2 min

Laramie Project returns to local stage

Five years later, the Matthew Shepard story is still alive

Life in Laramie – after Matthew Shepard’s murder – will play itself out on Theatre Ashbury’s stage this spring in The Laramie Project.



In 1998, Shepard, a 21-year-old gay college student, was kidnapped, tied to a fence and brutally beaten to death outside Laramie, Wyoming.



“We choose really provocative, educational shows,” says Greg Simpson, the theatre’s artistic director. “This is an interesting play. It’s about Matthew Shepard and what happened to him.”



Simpson calls the play provocative and powerful and says Ashbury, part of Ashbury College, an Ottawa private school, often tries to find themes that students can identify with in their own environment at some level.



“Obviously we have gay and lesbian students and teachers here,” he explains. “But are they free to be who they are?”



Four weeks after Shepard’s murder, Mois├ęs Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project travelled to Laramie to interview the town’s residents and create The Laramie Project from their testimony. In Ashbury’s version, 25 actors play out the real-life reactions of more than 50 citizens of the town, as they struggle to come to terms with shocking violence.



Outrage over the crime sparked international debate on issues including hate crime legislation, human rights and privileges and the distinction between tolerance and acceptance. Seventeen-year-old assistant director Dara Vandor says these issues are still alive five years later.



“The play is relevant at all times right now, regardless of the war,” she explains. “It’s not really going to go out of style.”



Vandor says the topic is close to home for her because one of her family members is gay. But she says the biggest challenge so far in her debut as a director is to make sure the audience can also identify with the play. “You have to get people to internalize,” she says.



Seventeen-year-old actress Danya Vered says an even bigger challenge is the delicacy of playing characters who are real. “Because they’re real people, you feel that you don’t want to just sit there and say, ‘Oh, I bet this person believes in God’ or ‘I bet her parents were like this,'” she says.



Vered plays a reporter, an anonymous friend of a perpetrator and the first officer who was on the scene of the crime. Exposed to Shepard’s HIV-positive blood, the officer undergoes drug treatment and loses 10 to 15 pounds and some of her hair due to the treatment.



“It’s really hard to relate to something like that,” Vered admits of her challenging role, including the elation the officer feels upon finding out she’s healthy. “That’s one of the happier, lighter moments of the play,” she says flatly.



While the Laramie Project focuses on prejudice, some of the actors find they’re wrestling to fight their own tendencies to pre-judge. Vered researched her characters through media clippings but still struggles to keep her role accurate.



“You can’t just go around thinking, ‘Oh, she must have been against hate crimes, cause that’s the proper thing to do.’ You kinda feel the responsibility to find out for sure. You can get a sense of what a character is like from their quotations. You have to do them justice. But the best results come from the best challenges.”



THE LARAMIE PROJECT.

May 6 and 7, 7pm.

Theatre Ashbury.

362 Mariposa Ave.

749-5954.

www.ashbury.on.ca.