Catawba College's Production of "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later" Is a Cautionary Tale
March 1, 2012
By Collette Riddle '13;
"The Facts: On October 6, 1998, a gay University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard, left the Fireside Bar with Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. The following day, he was discovered at the edge of town. He was tied to a fence, brutally beaten, and close to death." (Kaufman et al). This is a quote from the opening lines of "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later" to be offered by the Catawba College Theatre Arts Department March 20-24 in the Florence Busby Corriher Theatre on campus.
"The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later" is a series of interviews compiled, published and dramatized by Tectonic Theatre Project's Moises Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris, and Stephen Belber.
Returning to Catawba to guest direct "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later" is Dr. Jim Epperson. Epperson retired as a Catawba College theatre professor in 2002, but has never truly left the theatre. He was inducted into the Blue Masque Hall of Fame in 2008, and today he says he feels "honored" to have been asked to direct this play.
"There have, of course, been changes since 2002 when I retired from Catawba," Epperson says, "but the students today are basically the same as they were then – bright, talented, dedicated, and super to work with. And, directing is still directing. So it's been an easy transition and a very enjoyable one."
Some people may remember reading about theEvents that led to the authorship of the original "Laramie Project" script. A young gay man, Matthew Shepard, was beaten and left to die on a fence post in 1998. The attack was classified as a hate crime. The perpetrators were tried in court and were sentenced to serve two consecutive life sentences in prison. Few know, however, that before returning to Wyoming where theEvents took place, Matthew Shepard attended Catawba College briefly. Therefore, this play is very relevant to Salisbury. It is with great sensitivity that Catawba produces the show now.
Matthew Shepard's death is personal to many who still live in and around Rowan County, but to many others it has served as a catalyst for the political movement toward equal rights for same-sex couples. "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later" looks at Matthew Shepard both as the small, kind student who will always be remembered and loved by friends and family, as well as the impetus for a far-reaching movement for equality.
Interestingly, Greensboro College finished their production of the original "Laramie Project"justa month before Catawba College's production of the epilogue. This pairing was purely coincidental, but served as a means for both casts to connect and discuss their separate plays and characters.
Members of the Catawba cast and crew went to see Greensboro's production Saturday, February 25, 2012, and all were thoroughly pleased with the production. "It was interesting seeing characters that we've been working on, being interpreted in another way by other people," says junior Maggie Truxell Cherry Hill, N.J., Catawba's assistant director of "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later." "We really hope some of their cast will come see us, too, so we can compare notes."
What separates Catawba's production from the rest is Epperson's unique staging. With the help of set designer Meredith Avery (senior) of Clayton, lighting designer Brooke Beall (junior) of Raleigh and costume designer Katie Carpenter (junior) of Westlake, Ohio, Epperson has staged "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later" as an environmental theatre production. This means that the audience won't sit down together and view a separate stage. Instead, the audience will be sitting on and around the stage area as the actors move throughout and sit with the audience.
Epperson explains, "In the tradition of environmental theatre, we have moved the actors into the audience areas at times, making the actors and audience almost indistinguishable. Environmental theatre doesn't want an audience to sit passively, as they may have done earlier within other settings; it wants the audience to be involved."
The cast includes seniors Quinn McRae of Hendersonville and Mackenzie Westbrook of Charlotte; juniors Aaron Alderman of Durham, Jodye Carroll of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., Katie Johnson of Myersville, Md., John Millbank of Carrboro, Collette Riddle of Roanoke, Va., Jeffrey Salerno of Lake Mary, Fla., Donna Steele of Charlotte, and Adam Weiner of Cherry Hill, N.J.; sophomore Cody Gasque of Salisbury, and freshman Eric English of Horse Shoe.
"The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later" will be performed at the Florence Busby Corriher Theater on Tuesday, March 20 and Wednesday, March 21 at 6:55 p.m., and Thursday, March 22 through Saturday, March 24 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for senior citizens and non-Catawba students. The production is recommended for mature audiences only. For more details, please call the Catawba College Theatre Box Office at (704) 637-4481.