By Emma Weidmann | Staff Writer
Baylor Theatre’s production of “The Laramie Project” opened Wednesday at the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center.
In 1998, a young gay student named Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and killed in Laramie, Wyo., shocking the small, sheltered community. “The Laramie Project” is a documentary play based on interviews conducted by playwright Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project, as well as eyewitness accounts and court documents.
“The Laramie Project” is part of a small category of theater that doesn’t fictionalize its subject matter. Rather, this play and all its characters are composed of real quotes and interviews with members of the Laramie community. Each character on stage is a real person — down to their names and the lines they speak — and each event really happened.
“This is an interesting play because it explores not Matthew, but rather how a town and community react to being the site of a horrific act of violence and hate,” director David Jortner said.
Jortner was drawn to “The Laramie Project” for its unique perspective on the community rather than the individual victim, but also for its capability to open a conversation about prejudice.
“This is a play that doesn’t attempt to give answers,” Jortner said. “It forces you, as an audience member, to ask some really tough questions.”
The most important question that the play raises comes when members of the community ask the two killers, “What did we teach you that caused you to think like this?” The goal of “The Laramie Project” may be summed up with this simple thought, that prejudice and hatred are learned, rather than something innate to human beings.
In the spirit of open dialogue, after each show a talk will be held with the audience that will include guest speakers such as professor of sociology Dr. Kevin Dougherty and university chaplain Dr. Burt Burleson.
Atlanta, Ga., junior Megan Turpin plays Romaine Patterson, a woman who is forced into an activist role during the memorials for Shepard and the murder trials. She said she felt pressure to do justice to Patterson, but was also honored to portray a real-life activist on stage.
“She’s incredible and the fact that she’s a real person is such an honor,” Turpin said. “I am very inspired by the way that she stands up for what she believes in and fights hate with love.”
“The Laramie Project” is also an examination of how sheltered and homogenous communities can sometimes ostracize people who don’t fit the norm. That’s a message that Turpin said she wants audiences to take away from the performance.
“Every single person on this earth wants to be loved,” Turpin said. “If we can move even one person to see that queer people and other marginalized people just want to live in a world where they can be themselves unabashedly, I think we will have done our job.”