Play focuses on hate crime

Cast members bring to life a heinous murder in small town.

With “The Laramie Project,” a cast of 12 Ball State students takes a closer look at the effects of Matthew Shepard’s murder on the people of Laramie, Wyo.

For senior Kathryn Gilbert, the opportunity to play a handful of roles in the production has been an eye-opening experience.

“Theater has the power to change people and make people think,” Gilbert said. “This play is important because it forces you to take a closer look at the way people are treated in this country. Not just on their sexual orientation, but on any aspect that makes up a person.”

Gilbert is one of 12 cast members in the production who portray more than 60 residents of Laramie who were interviewed by playwright Moises Kaufman after the Matthew Shepard murder.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to play a real person before, so it’s a bit of a different experience,” Gilbert said. “One of my characters is a professor from the University of Wyoming, so I actually was able to do some research on her and find her biography online beforehand.”

For Gilbert, the town of Laramie is similar to small towns across the country, particularly Muncie.

“We address the issue in the play that Laramie could be any town and that this could happen anywhere,” Gilbert said. “The first thing you see is a Wal-Mart, and I think that’s one of the play’s strong points.

“It forces people to take a look at how their own town would react to or try to prevent something like this from happening.”

Senior David Behrns said participating in “The Laramie Project” has been a powerful reminder that hatred and bigotry still exist in America.

“Before we began practice, I started doing research on hate crimes and was surprised at how many people out there have such a strong bias against gays,” Behrns said. “The moments that get to me in the play are those that stand out when people say, ‘This was someone’s son, a member of someone’s family.’

“It becomes a really personal, close experience to hear what these people have to say.”

Bill Jenkins, director, first pitched the idea of performing “The Laramie Project” last year while participating in the College of Fine Arts planning committee for UniverCity.

“I had just heard Moises Kaufman speak at a conference and thought he was fascinating,” Jenkins said. “What he did with “The Laramie Project” was incredibly moving and life-changing in so many respects.”

Behrns said he has no doubts that Kaufman, who will speak after today’s 7 p.m. performance, will be impressed at how hard the actors worked during the past two months.

“I think everyone in the show is really excited for Moises to be coming,” Behrns said. “We’ve had such a strong response so far, and I think it’s only going to continue.”


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