WT Theatre to Stage Docudrama ‘Laramie Project’

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Copy by Chip Chandler, 806-651-2124, [email protected]

 

CANYON, Texas — A horrific hate crime is examined in a staged version of a true-crime docuseries in West Texas A&M University Theatre’s upcoming production of “The Laramie Project.”

The play realistically brings to life conversations with dozens of real-life Laramie residents in the wake of the 1998 death of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was savagely beaten and left bound to a fence post in the country. Shepard’s death galvanized much of the nation and helped lead to the expansion of national laws against hate crimes.

Much like TV/film documentarians, Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project visited Laramie several times to interview people who knew Shepard and his killers to paint a fuller view of the city and its complex, all-too-human residents.

“It’s a very unique show with a distinct way of approaching a hard topic,” said director Callie Hisek, WT’s Royal Brantley Professor of Theatre. “But it’s a topic that needs to be discussed here and in all communities.”

“The Laramie Project” will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 and 29 and Nov. 4 and 5 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 30 and Nov. 6 in the Branding Iron Theatre inside the Sybil B. Harrington Fine Arts Complex.

Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for seniors and non-WT students, and free for WT students, faculty and staff with a Buff Gold Card.

Thirteen WT actors will portray more than 60 residents of Laramie and others — those who loved Shepard, including his best friends and his father; law enforcement officers who investigated his death; Shepard’s killers and their family and friends; even Tectonic members themselves.

“I told my cast and production crew from the beginning that they’re not playing characters here,” Hisek said. “They’re playing real people, and I want my company to treat them all with respect, even when they hate what is being said.”

The audience winds up standing in for the interviewers, said Sawyer Landry, a junior theatre major from Canadian, who plays several characters, including Matthew’s father Dennis Shepard.

“Everyone tells their own version of what happened, and the script takes all of those different stories and makes it into this beautiful play,” Landry said. “It’s incredible.”

Cast members weren’t even born yet when Shepard’s attack and subsequent death captured the world’s attention, but they still find his story timely.

“We’re bridging the gap between people who remember this and those who have no clue that it happened,” said Lara Hedgpeth, a senior acting major from Dickinson who serves as the show’s narrator.

“It’s so important to tell,” said actress Angelica Pantoja, who plays six characters, including Shepard’s friend, activist Romaine Patterson.

“I identify as a queer person myself, and I think that most of us didn’t expect the emotional reactions we’ve had to this show,” said Pantoja, a sophomore acting major from Lubbock.

Hisek said she is being mindful of those reactions throughout the rehearsal process, checking in with each cast member, including five understudies, before every rehearsal, allowing them time to collect themselves during particularly emotional rehearsals and more.

“They are Matthew’s age, essentially, and this is hard for all of them, especially if they’re in the LGBTQIA+ community or if they’re allies,” Hisek said. “This has truly hit a lot of them in ways I don’t think they were expecting, realizing that this could have happened in their own towns.”

Buff Allies, a WT faculty/staff support group for the University’s LGBTQIA+ community, will lead a talkback session following the opening night performance on Oct. 28.

For tickets, call 806-651-2810, email [email protected], or visit wtamu.edu/theatre.

Cast members also include Edgar Camarena, a senior theater major from Amarillo; Carley Venter, a junior musical theatre major from Midland; Kenzie Dennis, a senior theatre major from Texline; Christian Howard, a junior health sciences major from New Deal; Victoria Reyes, a sophomore musical theatre major from Inez; Jovani Trevino, a senior acting major from Andrews; Ray Barber, a junior musical theatre major from Conroe; Carter Black, a junior acting major from Houston; Kendall Carnahan, a senior theatre major from Canyon; and B Herring, a junior design & technology and acting double major from Lubbock.

Understudies are Kaitlyn Frausto, a sophomore theatre major from Boys Ranch; Jonah Gonzales, a freshman theatre major from Plains; Noah Santos, a junior theatre major from Lubbock; Mason Shields, a freshman theatre major from Salinas, California; and Leigh Womack, a junior theater performance major from Hereford.

Fostering an appreciation of the arts is a key component of the University’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.

That plan is fueled by the historic, $125 million One West comprehensive fundraising campaign. To date, the five-year campaign — which publicly launched in September 2021 — has raised more than $110 million.

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