UWFox to Host "The Laramie Project"
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Matthew Shepard's brutal death more than four years ago was so shocking its impact can still be felt today.
"The Laramie Project," a documentary-style account of how the townspeople of Laramie, Wyo., reacted to the brutal death of the 21-year-old gay man, will be presented by the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley on April 23-26.
Shepard's death became a national symbol of intolerance, but for the people of Laramie the event was deeply personal, and it is 67 of their voices that we hear in this theatre piece.
"There are a lot of pretty emotional scenes," said UWFV sophomore Chris Wilcox, one of the cast members. "But there's also a few light-hearted moments. There's definitely a message for the audience, but I think everyone will see it a little differently."
Each of the cast members portrays multiple characters. Wilcox is responsible for five characters, one of whom is the anti-gay Rev. Fred Phelps, who has protested performances of "The Laramie Project" across the country. He recently protested a showing in Wausau.
J. Thompson, a UWFox freshman, also portrays five characters, and said the audience undoubtedly will be affected in one way or another.
"I feel strongly about being in this play, and a big reason for that is because it's an intriguing subject matter," Thompson said. "You get both sides of the story. It's a very personal story, and I'm honored to be a part of it."
On Oct. 7, 1998, Shepard was discovered bound to a fence in the hills outside Laramie, savagely beaten and left to die in an act of brutality and hate that still is difficult to comprehend.
The New York-based Tectonic Theater Project went to Laramie in the aftermath of his death. After two years and 200 interviews, "The Laramie Project" emerged.
It was converted into an HBO special, and continues to be shown around the country in various formats.
Susan Rabideau, the UWFV Fine Arts Theatre Director, said the cast has been working hard, practicing three hours a night, four nights a week. "I hope this will open a discussion about the various viewpoints that are raised," she said.
Not all cast members are UWFV students. Susan Currie, 34, of Chilton, attended UWFV more than 10 years ago before going on to earn a theater/drama degree from UW-Stevens Point.
Said Currie: "This project presents a challenge of trying to portray a documentary-style piece effectively. It's easy to get bogged down in dialogues, but the actors are doing things effectively and connecting with their characters.
"I'd encourage people to come watch. They shouldn't be discouraged by the topic. Some may think it's pro-gay or it's this or that, but it's not. It's telling a true story of something that happened, and telling different sides."
Added Thompson: "I'd like to see people walk away knowing this was real, that this event really happened. I think people can make their own conclusions after they watch it."
General admission tickets are $9, while UWFox student tickets are $5. All show times are 7 p.m. For more information, please call 920-832-2646 or 920-832-2857.