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Students stage 'The Laramie Project'

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Mercyhurst Theatre Program concludes its second season with The Laramie Project by Moisés Kaufman and the Members of the Tectonic Theater Project.

Performances are Thursday through Saturday, April 24-26, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, April 27, at 2 p.m. in Taylor Little Theatre. Brett D. Johnson, Ph.D., who previously helmed Eurydice and Urinetown: The Musical, directs the show, which is presented in cooperation with the Mercyhurst Institute for Arts & Culture.

The Laramie Project is a complex portrait of a community’s response to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man who was kidnapped, severely beaten and left to die, tied to a fence in the middle of the prairie outside Laramie, Wyoming. In a series of poignant reflections, the citizens react to the hate crime and surrounding media storm with anger, bewilderment and sorrow.

To create the play, the eight-member New York-based Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie in the wake of Shepard’s murder, conducting more than 200 interviews with the people of the town. “The idea behind The Laramie Project was to gather a document that would record how the people of Laramie felt about sexuality, class, identity, education, violence, and what we’re teaching our children,” said Johnson. “The play does not preach from one side or the other, but attempts to create a place where the citizenry can speak to each other and to the world from their hearts and their minds.”

Assistant director Sarah Creighton, a sophomore music education major at Mercyhurst, said that portraying real people, including Dennis Shepard, raises the stakes for the cast and creative team: “We have a responsibility to do the work well and to do it as truthfully and honestly as we can.”

Johnson chose Laramie to conclude the theatre program’s second season because of the challenges it presents in terms of both content and form. Twelve actors portray more than 70 characters, including members of the Tectonic Theater Project, Laramie residents, and the reporters who descended on the town in the days following Shepard’s murder. Different characters are suggested through simple costume pieces as well as the actors’ physical and vocal transformation.

The cast comprises 12 Mercyhurst students, including Taylor Bookmiller, Brianna Carle, Chelsee Cool, Tyler Drew, Chris Gaertner, Maxton Honeychurch, Kimberly Kuehl, Brandon Miller, Lauren Naples, Nam Nguyen, Matt Sprague and Bethany Sulecki.

The Laramie Project features an all-student production team. Caitlin Mininger and Tonya Lenhart serve as stage manager and assistant stage manager, respectively; and Ian Gayford, a junior music education major who previously served as musical director for Urinetown, provides original music.

Tickets are $10 for adults; $7 for senior citizens, students, and President’s Card holders; and $5 for youths and Mercyhurst students with ID. They can be purchased by calling 814-824-3000.

Warning: This production contains strong language and descriptions of violence.

For more information, contact Brett D. Johnson at 814-824-2663, or e-mail him at