21
Mar
12

The Laramie Project – thoughts

Thoughts from Elizabeth Best, Cast Member of The Laramie Project at Nash Theatre, New Farm.

I still vividly remember how I felt the first time I saw The Laramie Project and heard Matthew Shepard’s tragic story for the first time about 8 years ago. Matt was only 21 years old where he was savagely beaten and left for dead tied to a fence in small town Laramie, Wyoming, in the USA. He suffered this horrendous attack at the hands of two other kids, and he was singled out because he was gay. I remember feeling shocked that anyone could do something like that to another human being, feeling sad that a young life was cut short and feeling hopeful that pieces of theatre like this could bring about change.


So naturally, when I heard Nash was doing Laramie, I jumped at the chance to actually be IN the show that had so captivated me all those years ago.

What is most fascinating to me is that the show is verbatim theatre, which means that the words spoken on stage are taken directly from interviews, court transcripts and other found texts; Laramie Project isn’t just based on a true story, it IS the true story – every single word of it. Moises Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theatre Project made six trips to Laramie over the course of a year and a half in the aftermath of the beating and during the trial of the two young men accused of killing Shepard. They conducted more than 200 interviews with the people of the town. They have constructed a deeply moving theatrical experience from these interviews and their own experiences.

Laramie is a show that takes a lot of work: eight actors share more than 60 roles, ranging from local bartenders, to judges, to the perpetrators themselves. My 12 characters include a Wyoming waitress, a lesbian university professor, the girlfriend of the perpetrator and the wife of a homophobic baptist minister. With this in mind, research was a huge part of my process in this show; I needed to know who these people were, where they came from, and where they ended up once the play finished. Then with that information, I needed to figure out how the heck I was going to differentiate between them all! Luckily, some of the characters came from different regions which meant different accents, then the personalities of the characters lent themselves to different voice timbres and, of course, the physicality that comes from the whopping age differences: my youngest character is 21 and my oldest is in her late 50s. And with so many characters, it’s so easy to slip into caricature, which is something I wanted to avoid. That is where the research helped and knowing that these people were real and that their stories continued on after the final words of the play.

The Laramie Project is a show that conveys an important message and shows us the human condition in its many forms; it shows frailty, weakness, hatred, brutality, caring, compassion and most of all, hope. The fact that it is a true story  – Matthew’s story – instilled in me a need to do these people and this story justice and, as one of the Laramie characters Father Roger Schmidt says, to “say it right. You need to do your best to say it correct.”

BOOK NOW

Thursday – Saturday @ 7.30pm

Nash Theatre

Merthyr Uniting Church

52 Merthyr Road, New Farm

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