First Posted: 3/25/2014
Almost two decades ago, the small town of Laramie, Wyoming became the center of national attention when Mathew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, was brutally murdered by his peers.
Keystone College partnered with the Dietrich Theater to bring Shepard’s story and the aftermath to La Plume and Tunkhannock’s small town stages with the production of “The Laramie Project”.
The play was created by the Tectonic Theater Project and is based on over 200 interviews, court documents, and documentation of events and reactions following Shepard’s murder.
Keystone College’s Director of Theatre, Jane Honchell, and Executive Director of the Dietrich Theater, Jennifer Jenkins, are co-directors of the play.
For both directors, executing this project was a special moment. Honchell said when choosing a play, it’s imperative to think how a play may “open up doors or conversations for things we need to be talking about.”
Jenkins added that since “The Laramie Project” is based on actual people and real-life experiences there’s “a responsibility to make sure you get it right.”
Both co-directors expressed the desire to involve the community for a play about a community.
“I love that it could be any town, USA in this country,” Honchell said. “When something monumental like that happens in a town, people are forced to look at themselves.”
The co-director said a play of this nature creates an opportunity for individuals to re-evaluate preconceived notions about what a great place their town is or what their values are.
This project also created the opportunity for a community of characters to come together, as well. With only 19 actors playing over 70 characters, the cast had to take on multiple roles.
“I love the challenge this play creates for the actors,” Honchell said.
The cast is made up of seasoned professionals to those on stage for the first time. Seasoned actor John Vicich from Tobyhanna, said he hopes the play “will have the impact that the seriousness of this whole case should have had many years ago.”
Vicich is playing 11 different characters in the play.
Keystone College alumnus Joshua Harris, who is playing “five or six characters,” said he was looking forward to “seeing the life of each character on stage.”
From the subject matter to the cast, Jenkins said creating the production with Keystone College “took on a life of its own,” adding the College has resources the Dietrich does not and visa versa and that the collaboration has “worked out so well. It’s been a pretty seamless production all around.”
“We came from the same directorial womb,” Honchell said about Jenkins.
The co-directors split the play between acts, still with the same vision and goals for the production overall.
Jenkins and Honchell enhanced the production through grant funding. The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, M &T Charitable Foundation, and the Lackawanna County Council on the Arts “were so incredibly supportive to us,” Jenkins said. The directors were able to use the extra funding for everything from set creation to costumes and lighting.
“People should come in with an open mind and expect great theatre,” Jenkins said . “There is a character in this show for everyone.”