The Laramie Project: A Director’s Perspective

By Alana Horton

The Laramie Project, by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Company, is perhaps the most recognizable and popular piece of documentary theatre being produced today. Since its debut in 1999, it has been put on over 5,000 times worldwide. Macalester College will join that number on April 5th, when The Laramie Project opens on our own Main Stage Theatre. During the course of the Macalester Laramie rehearsal process, 5 other productions of The Laramie Project were being rehearsed around the Twin Cities at various high schools, community theatres, and professional venues. I sat down with director Harry Waters Jr. to talk about what makes the Macalester production of The Laramie Project different and why he felt that it needed to be put on here and now. “It’s a story about voices,” says Waters. “[It’s a] piece that [has] voices of people actually speaking their truth. Having the opportunity to speak.“ And as Waters makes clear, “there are voices at Macalester that are silenced. Or as one cast member said, ‘They’re laughed at.’“ The voices featured in The Laramie Project came about in the wake of the horrific murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. In 1998, Matthew, a 21-year-old gay student registered at the University of Wyoming, was tied to a cattle fence, beaten about the head, robbed, and left to die on a bitterly cold night in October. The Tectonic Theatre Company traveled to Laramie and conducted more than 200 interviews with about 100 Laramie residents. Those interviews, as well as journal entries from the members of Tectonic Theater Project and other found texts, resulted in a collage of reflections and reactions to the murder that are the basis of The Laramie Project. “People always have their conception of what this play’s about,” says says director Harry Waters Jr. “Just because they say “Gay student Mathew Shepard” people go “OH MY GOD IT’S A GAY PLAY. “ No, it’s not. It’s about people’s voices that are responding to an incident.” The Laramie Project is part of the Theatre and Dance Department’s season theme of “Voices of the Silenced, which seeks to “gives voice to displaced persons, the poor, targets of hate crimes, and citizens struggling with trauma.” Waters says, “I would like the Macalester Community to think in a wider way about how they are not listening to voices that are different from their own. Which is hard. You know, we don’t choose to hear people who think differently from us, but what if we did?” The desire for the Macalester Community to hear other voices has led Waters to stage The Laramie Project in a slightly different way. “Laramie is usually an event that happens over there, behind a proscenium wall, that you get to sort of watch happen, as opposed to having happen right in front of you and around you,” Waters says. The Macalester production of The Laramie Project, by contrast, is taking place on a thrust stage, with the actors surrounded by the audience. Like in most productions of The Laramie Project, there are very few costumes or props in use. Each actor is playing 4 or 5 different characters, and the actors remain on stage for the duration of the 3-hour performance, leading to a very intimate experience. Waters, with the assistance of Dance professor Wynn Fricke, has also incorporated movement pieces into the performance. “One of the things I’m trying to do during my time here at Macalester is to really integrate the Theatre and the Dance elements of our department,” Waters says. He sees the movement pieces as “a stylistic way of interpreting the emotional and internal conflict that’s happening with the characters.” “People’s voices are in such a conflict right now,” says Waters. “We’re so pulled apart by how we’re divided politically, socially, ethnically, that we’re not listening to each other. And this play is… an opportunity for us collectively to hear each other again. It doesn’t mean we have to like it. But we are making a conscious decision to hear each other.” “The Laramie Project” performances are at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, April 5 – 7, Thursday through Saturday, April 12 – 14, and also at 2 p.m. on Saturday April 7th. On April 14th at 2 p.m., there will be a free symposium LIKE NO PLACE ON EARTH: Issues of Place in Performance about the show in the Main Stage Theatre. All are welcome. For ticket information, call 651-696-6359 or visit the Box Office in the Theatre Lobby. Tickets are $2 for students with reservation, free for student rush, and free for faculty and staff. General admission is $7. refresh –>