Acting class to stage compelling drama, ‘The Laramie Project’

Michael Burnett's acting class will stage the drama,

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Michael Burnett's acting class will stage the drama, "The Laramie Project," in the school's new black box theater.

Abigail Craig

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For the first time, DHS is staging a production organized by the school’s acting class and the drama — “The Laramie Project” — will debut Thursday, May 2, in the new black box theater on campus.

The school has always had an amazing theater community (DHS Productions)  and has been producing phenomenal musicals for years. Now, however, with having a show put on by the acting class rather than the official theater production students have something new to look forward to.

After putting on a spectacular performance of “Godspell” in March with nothing but good reviews and inspired audience members, acting teacher Michael Burnett is tackling another highly impactful show, “The Laramie Project.”

“The Laramie Project” is a deep show written by playwright and director Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project. The production is based on the true story of a college student named Matthew Shepard who was brutally murdered, the target of a hate crime simply because he was openly gay.

Burnett said that the show was chosen by the students in his acting class. “There were a couple of options for shows” however, this year “was the 20th year anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder.” Because of this, Burnett felt
as though doing the show this year would be timely.

“Especially now with how much hate rhetoric is out there,” Burnett said, “it is even more important that we bring
this story back.”

Burnett had staged a production of the drama at Brookfield Theater for the Arts in 2012. Directing this show the first time around was “one of the most powerful if not the most powerful theater experiences that I’ve ever had,” Burnett said.

Cast and crew were faced with protesters and non-supporters of The Laramie Project during the first production in Brookfield. “We were on the picket schedule for the Westboro Baptist Church,” Burnett recalled. “They were coming to picket our show or protest the show, and students from Brookfield High School created a counter protest of Angel Action (which is brought up and elaborated on within the show),” Burnett explained.

On the opening night of the show, Burnett recalled that there were “over 100 people dressed in angel wings standing out in the pouring rain surrounding the theater so that it was protected from any other protests.”

“The Laramie Project” is so important in today’s day and age because of how much has been changed for the LGBTQ+ community over the years ever since Shepard’s tragic death. “Because of Matthew’s mom, we now have changes in hate crime legislation, so laws have changed,” Burnett said.

However, unfortunately, “we’re seeing a resurgence of hate crimes in the country,” Burnett continued, “and it speaks to that really understanding people’s differences and fears that some people are forced to live with.”

Senior Nick Veloso said “The Laramie Project” remains relevant because “it makes us look at our society with new eyes” as
it highlights the struggles that those in the LGBTQ+ community must face and tells the story of how the Matthew Shepard Act came to be.

Senior Dariana Rosario agreed. This play is important because of “how it was handled,” how it conveys “the severity of [hate crimes], and how it still can be relatable for some people, and how it still plays a role in the present day,” Rosario said.

Because of the intensity of the subject material, the young actors must find a way of separating themselves from the
play after leaving rehearsals.

Keeping themselves separated from the show and their characters has been harder for some than others. For Senior Ben Pereira, it has been a bit of a struggle as he has been “finding it harder and harder to go through each rehearsal. It’s becoming more and more a reality with the additions of costumes and lighting, as well as us, the actors, really falling into our roles.”

Fortunately, Pereira has found an outlet for himself. In attempts to wind down, the student finds himself “after rehearsals wanting to do something a little more brain dead, something that is simple and puts a smile on my face.”

Senior Ashley Corrie is another student who tends to find herself struggling with the bond with her character. “As an LGBT youth at DHS, participating in this play has been very difficult knowing that especially now there’s still this much hatred in the world,” shared Corrie. “But, the way that I’m kind of dealing with it is sort of thinking of the play as more of an activism
message.”

Corrie said that “the more I put into the play, the more heart and time that I put into the play, then the more that people will be able to take from it and understand that even though this is still an issue there are things that you can do about it.”

As for distancing herself, she has found that “you can get attached to your character without getting attached to a message.”

The main lesson or purpose that the students want to pass on to their audience is the importance of having an open mind.

“I hope that this reminds everyone who sees the show that this isn’t at all a problem of the past, and is still something that’s very prominent today and even though [Matthew Shepard’s murder] happened 20 years ago, it’s happened to so many more people back then and now,” said Senior Vincent Miyazato.

Miyazato hopes “that the audience leaves thinking of all the stories that we haven’t heard. I want to emphasize the fact that Matthew Shepard’s killing was the start of the progressive movement for the LGBTQ+ community” but “there are still way too many stories that haven’t been told that are being ignored and shouldn’t.”

 

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