Robinson Players to present powerful, provocative ‘Laramie Project’

Cast members in the Robinson Players' production of "The Laramie Project": Alanna Hoffman '15 as the Narrator; Nick Auer '15 as Jon Peacock, Matthew Shepard's academic advisor; Jonathan Schwolsky '15 as Tectonic Theater Project member Andy Paris.

Seeking to spark constructive dialogue on campus and in the community, a student theater group at Bates College presents Moisés Kaufman’s The Laramie Project in performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 10-11, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12. All shows are in Gannett Theater, Pettigrew Hall, 305 College St.

Tickets are $5 and available at the door. Proceeds go to Outright L/A, a Lewiston-Auburn organization that supports LGBTQ youth in a safe and affirming environment. For more information, please contact mschloss@bates.edu.

A 4 p.m. panel discussion follows the Sunday performance in Gannett Theater. Featured are members of the production; Heather Lindkvist, director of the Diversity in Excellence Leadership Team at Bates; and members of OUTfront, an LGBTQ advocacy group on campus. Refreshments will be served.

Time magazine described The Laramie Project as “a pioneering work and a powerful stage event.” The play captures the voices of residents of Laramie, Wyo., following the brutal 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student who was gay.

Immediately following the murder, members of the New York City-based Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie, seeking “the story of the people of Laramie in their own words,” as the troupe’s website states.

Led by Tectonic artistic director Kaufman, they returned repeatedly over the next two years to collect interviews. The result is a script comprising 40 haunting and authentic narratives structured as a series of “moments” supported by monologues.

The play, produced by the Robinson Players, is co-directed by senior Michelle Schloss of Unionville, Conn.; and junior Spencer Collet of Leawood, Kan. Schloss and Collet’s theatrical strengths complement each other: The former is a seasoned director while the latter has a strong acting background. Accordingly, Schloss focuses on mapping character movement, and Collet on developing the monologues.

“The play doesn’t make any argument at all,” Schloss explains. “It focuses on the community and asks: Why did this happen here? It shows all the different viewpoints and lets those sink in.”

Collet adds, “You get all of these very intense issues presented at once in a way that’s compelling because they come from real people. If it does anything, The Laramie Project celebrates our differences no matter what they are. We are not making any definitive judgment — apart from, hate is wrong. ”

Fairly and effectively dramatizing these differences has tested the Robinson Players. Collet explains, “The biggest challenge is to present it so that people don’t come away saying, ‘Those people there must be terrible.’ All groups portrayed in this show are given an equal say.”

“Every opinion, whether or not people here agree with it, is valid and real,” Schloss agrees.

Departing from a decade-plus of annual Robinson productions of The Vagina Monologues, Laramie engages contemporary discourse on gender and sexuality. Collet, who performed in the play in high school and suggested it to the Bates company, intended it to be a catalyst for student and community dialogue.

Accordingly, the company has teamed up with OUTfront to develop the post-show panel. OUTfront also suggested Outright L/A as the organization to receive the proceeds.

Schloss and Collet praise the 14 actors for their maturity and focus in playing characters who are unlike them and for tackling the challenge of playing 40 characters. “Every single member of this cast is phenomenal, and I’ve never been in a theater situation where you have that,” states Collet.

Among the players are:

Nick Auer, a first-year from Fairfield, Conn., who portrays Aaron McKinney, one of Shepard’s assailants;

Charles Emple, a senior from Swampscott, Mass., who plays a member of the Tectonic Theater Project, as well as Aaron Kriefels, who found Shepard and placed the 911 call;

Jennifer Flanagan, a senior from Sherborn, Mass., playing an administrative assistant at the university;

MacKenzie Pendergast, a first-year student from Greenwich, Conn., who plays Reggie Fluty, the policewoman who responded to Kriefels’ 911 call;

Liam Zaaijer, a senior from South Orange, N.J., who portrays a limousine driver in Laramie and also Father Roger Schmidt, the minister who held the first candlelight vigil for Shepard.

Travis Jones, a junior from Ithaca, N.Y., is responsible for the set design, and senior Ian Dulin of Bennington, Vt., created the lighting design.

Since its premiere in 2000, more than 30 million people around the country have seen Laramie at high schools, colleges, community theaters and professional playhouses.

– By Izzy McKean ’12

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