The Laramie Project a good example of documentary theatre

By Norm Hamilton Special to the News The violent murder of Matthew Shepard affected an entire town, and led to the creation of The Laramie Project. "It is the play of the decade," said Eric Epstein, the Guild Society's artistic director.

The violent murder of Matthew Shepard affected an entire town, and led to the creation of The Laramie Project.

“It is the play of the decade,” said Eric Epstein, the Guild Society’s artistic director.

Shepard was a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student who was tortured and murdered because he was gay.

The play allows the audience to see the human voice that made up the community of Laramie and to see how our community is reflected, said Epstein, adding it is a piece of documentary theatre that brings human insight into a very important, complex issue.

The idea to bring The Laramie Project to Whitehorse originated with Stephen Dunbar-Edge of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Yukon.

He proposed a co-operative effort between the Guild Society and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Yukon.

“I’m looking forward to the discussion that will take place as a result of this remarkable piece of work,” said Dunbar-Edge, adding he was pleased Epstein and the Guild Society agreed the show had artistic merit.

Dunbar-Edge first considered producing The Laramie Project two years ago because there was no strong gay/lesbian message here.

The goal was to re-invigorate the Gay and Lesbian Alliance in Yukon. Today, things are picking up.

In Yukon, friendships are often defined by common interests, so most gays and lesbians here have more straight friends than not, he said.

“They live very integrated because Yukon is an accepting place.”

There is a high level of participation, education in the arts and in the Yukon community in general.

There is a world of difference between Yukon and northern towns in other areas, said Dunbar-Edge.

“Yukon is, in general, a safe community”, he said.

Sometimes people don’t talk about the issues, so isolated incidents, such as bullying in school, don’t touch on the root cause, said Dunbar-Edge.

The play may help provoke that discussion. Shepard’s death was sparked by prejudice and hatred, and provoked a spirited discussion of hate crime legislation in the US.

Incidents of hatred towards gays are not uncommon.

“There were three times when my life was in jeopardy,” said Dunbar-Edge. “Hate crimes demand very specific evidence, so it’s very difficult to prove.”

Most hate crime incidents in Canada were motivated by race/ethnicity (57 per cent), religion (43 per cent) and sexual orientation (10 per cent), according to a Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics report issued in June 2004.

But, “Incidents motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation were the most likely to be violent in nature (65 per cent),” said the report. “Six-in-10 of these incidents involved assault (63 per cent) followed by uttering threats (21 per cent).”

The Laramie Project received funding from the Arts Fund.

It will be directed by Toronto’s Clinton Walker, who is both an experienced actor and director.

“Clinton’s experience and enthusiasm has been inspiring to me,” said Dunbar-Edge.

The arts bring education and awareness to the community, said Tina Woodland, executive producer for the Guild Society.

“A play like this helps bring a better understanding to the community about others in the community,” she said.

“It certainly brings awareness to the community. Whenever you break down barriers, it is important.”

The play was created by conducting of hundreds of interviews of the inhabitants of Laramie by the Tectonic Theater Project theatre company, by the company members’ own journals and from published news reports.

Eight actors portray more than 60 characters during the three-act play.

Auditions for the eight parts will take place at the Guild Hall in Porter Creek on December 5 and 6.

Auditions can be booked or more information obtained by e-mailing laramie@yukonpride.com or calling 393-5757.

The GALA Annual General Meeting is December 8. They can be contacted at laramie@yukonpride.com or by calling 393-5757

A foundation to combat hate crimes has been created in Matthew Shepard’s memory. It can be found online at www.mathewshepard.org .

Norm Hamilton is a freelance writer and photographer based in Whitehorse.

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