The Laramie Project Continues at Sinclair
By Emma Jarman
Theater is one of America’s oldest and most effective escapist pastimes. We watch movies and attend plays to put our own troubles behind and become absorbed in the fantastical yet fictional dilemmas and perfectly timed resolutions of the characters onscreen or stage. But what if there were a play where the characters were not made up, but real … the dilemmas are tragic but not in the divine sense … a play where timing doesn’t matter, only relevancy, and resolution is ongoing and perpetually incomplete?
It doesn’t sound enjoyable, does it? That’s not exactly the point.
Matthew Shepard, as student at the University of Wyoming, was gay. In 1998 he was tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo., tortured and murdered because he was gay. Weeks after Shepard’s death, the Tectonic Theater Project descended on the small, rural town and interviewed hundreds of its residents to gather perspectives on attitudes, outlooks and opinions surrounding what happened there. The result is the Laramie Project: a play that does not let us escape, but forces us to be present in the very real issue of intolerance in America.
Next month, Sinclair Community College will be hosting a week of events on and around campus as part of their Diversity Series two weeks before the Laramie Project hits their stage. Laramie at Sinclair, May 1, 2 and 3, will provide a platform for dialogue centered around not only reflection and remembrance of Matthew Shepard but also a celebration of his life and the move toward diversity, acceptance and peace that has come from the tragic ending of it. Greg Pierotti, a member of the original group who traveled to Laramie and put together the Laramie Project script, will be in attendance and actively involved in the entire week of Laramie at Sinclair events.
The kickoff gathering, Tuesday, May 1, is a reception for Pierotti at PRESS Coffee House at 7p.m. PRESS will close for the event but the reception is open to the public. This community reception will be an excellent opportunity to meet Pierotti and many other participating organizations and individuals. As with the entire week of events, all are welcome and encouraged to attend.
“We really want the community,” said Kathleen Hotmer, costume staff and adjunct faculty member in Sinclair’s theater department. Theater department Chair, Stephen Skiles, continued, “We’re not just engaging ourselves, we’re engaging a wider audience. Going downtown helps strike a balance between two audiences.”
The following days and activities are nothing if not attempts at binding seemingly separate communities through discussion forums and shared experiences.
“Everyone is invited to everything,” echoed Robbin Hoopes, co-faculty advisor for the Brite SiGnal Alliance and Assistant Dean of the LCS division at Sinclair.
The 10-year anniversary of the Matthew Shepard murder came along about four years ago, in 2008. In memoriam, the Tectonic Theater Project returned to Laramie to speak with current residents and reconnect with many of the people interviewed for the original production, including Shepard’s mother and one of the men convicted of killing him, and drafted a follow-up piece titled Laramie: 10 Years Later. A reading of this second installation will be held at Sinclair Community College in the lower level stage area of Building 8 on Wednesday, May 2 at 7p.m. Immediately following the reading, a panel discussion will provide outlet for thoughts and opinions from the audience. Earlier that day, at noon, Sinclair Talks – Creating Theatre that Illuminates Hate Crime in America will be hosted at Sinclair’s Library Loggia.
The panel discussion, like the Laramie Projects, is not intended to be agreeable or homogenous. The plays offer all sorts of perspectives and opinions surrounding not only the murder of Matthew Shepard, but the perceived effect of the events on the community and the potential for us to learn from them.
“For any movement, you have to have dialogue,” said Hotmer. “People have to be thinking about it and talking about it. It’s not just about the community of Sinclair, it’s about the community that Sinclair is a part of.”
“[The script] doesn’t just interview the characters that are friends and allies of Matthew,” continued Skiles. “It’s important to show both sides. If it was a narrow view it wouldn’t be nearly as effective.”
That’s not to say the discussions don’t have an overriding goal. The point is to reflect and do more for our community. “[We want to] make sure that something like a Matthew Shepard murder doesn’t happen here, but also to prevent lesser injuries whether those are physical or otherwise,” added Hoopes. “It is so that we value our GLBT youth and nurture them.”
The third and culminating day of events, May 3, will be the most public and accessible of all the Laramie at Sinclair activities. Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to meet at Garden Station at 7: 00p.m. for a diversity walk that will troop through the Oregon District. Kicked off with a welcoming by Gwen Jones, Sinclair’s diversity officer, the walk will proceed through the Oregon District’s residential areas and back up 5th Street to Garden Station. Following the march, Dayton’s Gay Men’s Chorus will perform and several community speakers will get behind the microphone for a night of solemn remembrance mixed with joyful celebration of both the literal and figurative steps taken towards diversity and acceptance. An after-party fundraiser will take place at The Trolley Stop at 9p.m. featuring The Rubi Girls and an open mic night.
“You may not see it [discrimination] but it’s happening in our community. What happened with Matthew Shepard is an extreme case but there are various degrees of the hatred that were inflicted upon this person,” said Hotmer. “We want the community to take notice.”
(Anyone interested in joining the discussion towards ending discrimination and hate and looking for more information on the events of Laramie at Sinclair should visit facebook.com/Laramie.at.sinclair or e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All Laramie at Sinclair events are free and open to the public, but to purchase tickets to the Laramie Project and for a list of show times, visit the Sinclair theater department website at Sinclair.edu/arts/theatre.)
Reach DCP freelance writer Emma Jarman at EmmaJarman@DaytonCityPaper.com.