‘The Laramie Project’ brings LGBT community discussion to Northwestern

Mariana Alfaro, Reporter

Communication Prof. Rives Collins said he was looking for a good story to tell when he decided to direct “The Laramie Project.”

The play opens Friday as part of the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for Performing Arts mainstage season. It focuses on aftermath of the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was beaten and tortured in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. After each performance, the theater will host talkbacks with different speakers related to LGBT issues to discuss “the evolving definitions of family and community,” according to the School of Communication.

“The play is actually a mosaic to the community’s response to the murder,” Collins said. “In the aftermath of the murder … a theater company called the Tectonic Theater Project heads to Wyoming to interview members of the community to try to seek some kind of understanding.”

Written by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, the play was named “one of the best ten plays of the year” by Time magazine in 2000. Shepard’s death has gained widespread attention in the LGBT rights movement and led to the passage of a 2009 hate crime prevention law.

“I hope that students are interested in a story that is about someone who is exactly their age,” Collins said. “It is a good moment to bring it to stage.”

Grace Overbeke, the play’s dramaturg who researches the context of a play, said she hopes the audience will relate to the play’s story.

“I think ‘The Laramie Project’ has already resonated quite deeply in the LGBT community here,” said Overbeke, a theater and drama doctoral candidate at NU. “I think this play is about empowerment, and the way that the sense of belonging that people feel oftentimes depends on universal compassion. I feel like a lot of people will see themselves in Laramie.”

The show, which features student actors, was cast before the end of Spring Quarter and rehearsals have been going on since the first week of this academic year, Collins said.

“The actors are stunning and they have been brave in their research project, meeting with terrific guests that shared their stories with us,” he said. “This process has been a journey of discovery.”

Talkbacks after the performances will feature several people from Evanston and Chicago who will share their perspectives on the play with the audience. Speakers include Tracy Baim, executive editor of LGBT-centric newspaper Windy City Times, Damon Hainline, a marriage equality and LGBT activist, University Police Sgt. Haydee Martinez and Bill Farmer, a teacher and Gay/Straight Student Alliance adviser at Evanston Township High School.

Audience members can also visit  “Not Alone: The Power of Response,” an exhibit that opens a half hour before each performance. The exhibit features letters from people affected by Shepard’s death.

“The Laramie Project” runs from Oct. 24 to Nov. 2 with 7:30 p.m. shows on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and a 2 p.m. show on Sundays at the Ethel M. Barber Theater.

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