Thursday’s television news coverage was consumed by flames in Austin, Texas. It left me with a great heaviness of heart that lifted ever so slightly when the news shifted to Olympics coverage.
I arrived home just in time to see snowboarder Shaun White ascend the podium to receive his gold medal (White also earned gold for his halfpipe performance at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino).
I watched the American flag rise to the top center position as our national anthem played in honor of White’s achievement, and grinned when he played a little air guitar ditty to the “land of the free” segment of the song.
I felt like I’d seen the most triumphant, and the most tragic, of what Americans had to offer the world that day. And I wondered whether a group of 14 teens and young adults rehearsing just up the street for a profound production that examines the very best and worst within each of us, within all of us, might be feeling it too.
The ensemble of young actors was gathered at Stagebrush Theatre in Scottsdale, rehearsing The Laramie Project—a poignant play renowned for “exploring the depths to which humanity can sink and the heights of compassion of which we are all capable.”
Shepard was kidnapped, savagely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. Kaufman and his collaborators went to Laramie just five weeks after Shephard’s murder, considered by most a hate crime born of homophobia.
During the next year, they conducted more than 200 interviews with the people of Laramie. The Laramie Project was born.
Tectonic Theater Project describes the work as “one of the most performed plays in America today.” Yet many Valley theater goers have yet to experience it.
You’ll have the opportunity next month, when QSpeak and Greasepaint Youtheatre (enjoying their first season affiliated with Phoenix Theatre), present the Laramie Project—recommended for ages 13 and up.
I spent a bit of time Thursday evening with the cast for this production, who graciously welcomed me into the circle they’d formed while sitting onstage together. I wanted to get their perspectives on the play.
Why does the subject matter appeal to them? Has participating in this production changed the way they view performance art or their own place in the world? Do they expect to draw audience members from any particular political or philosophical persuasion?
I’ll share their perspectives on the piece, and their work together, in a future post. It’s a far cry, they tell me, from the song and dance world of musical theater that’s comprised so much of their previous theater experience.
As I wrap this post, a nearby television screen shows American skater Evan Lysacek absolutely beaming atop the winner’s podium in Vancouver. He’s just earned the gold medal in the men’s free skate competition.
It’s these extraordinary athletes, as well as the young actors no less devoted to their craft, that I’ll hold dear in the days ahead as we all seek ways to move the message of The Laramie Project—turning hate to hope—forward.
Note: The Laramie Project will be performed March 5-7 and March 12-14 at Stagebrush Theatre in Scottsdale. For details and ticketing information, visit the Phoenix Theatre website.