Article Title:Ellerslie Theatre stages The Laramie Project
Author or Credit:Matt Akersten
Published on:4th June 2008 - 07:29 pm
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Story ID:6028
Text:Matthew Shepard It happened in the small country town of Laramie, Wyoming, in October 1998. 21-year-old student Matthew Shepard met two guys in a bar, who told him they were gay. The young man followed them out, and was robbed, pistol whipped, tortured, tied to a fence and left to die. In court after Shepard's death, the two attackers attempted to use the so-called 'gay panic defence' - telling the court that they were driven to insane actions by Shepard's sexual advances to them. The Laramie Project is a documentary play, presenting a series of moments in the lives of citizens of the small community which faced international media scrutiny during the trial. "There are moments in history when a particular event brings the various ideologies and beliefs prevailing in a culture into sharp focus," says playwright Moisés Kaufman. "At these junctures, the event becomes a lightning rod of sorts, attracting and distilling the essence of these philosophies and convictions. By paying careful attention in moments like this to people's words, one is able to hear the way these prevailing ideas affect not only individual lives but also the culture at large. "The brutal murder of Matthew Shepard was an event of this kind. In its immediate aftermath, the nation launched into a dialogue that brought to the surface how we think and talk about homosexuality, sexual politics, education, class, violence, privileges and rights, and the difference between tolerance and acceptance." Experienced theatre director Julia Leathwick is bringing The Laramie Project to the stage in Auckland. She describes the play as an astonishing piece of theatre. "It's a personal favourite of mine," she tells "I feel that, with this play, if we can change one person's level of tolerance - if we can make them understand that there's more than one kind of person out there, whether it be Jewish, black, white, female, male, gay or straight - then our job is done. That's all we can hope to do," she explains. The cast of The Laramie Project It's not the first time this internationally renowned play has been presented in New Zealand - Victoria University presented it in 2004, co-directed by David O'Donnell and James Hadley. In 2006 Miranda Harcourt directed another production at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School in the capital while the University of Waikato staged it in the same year. For this month's show in Auckland, Leathwick says she had a wide range of talented actors audition and picked nine cast members who together play over sixty characters. "Each actor tells a number of stories," she says. "It's a real mash-up of characters, each with their own unique voices." Some of those voices are more challenging than others, and audiences are warned that the language and themes presented may offend some people. For example, the views of the funeral-picketing Westboro Church are featured, along with a Baptist minister who cruelly states: "I hope as he was tied to that fence that Matthew Shepard had time to reflect on a moment when someone had spoken the word of the Lord to him - and that before he slipped into a coma he had a chance to reflect on his lifestyle." But the main character in this story becomes the town of Laramie itself, and it is left for The Laramie Project's audience to decide whether the small community can recover from the brutal crime that shook the world. Ellerslie Theatrical Society presents THE LARAMIE PROJECT 5 - 14 June 2008 Stables Theatre, Cnr Main Highway   
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