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Welcome to the equality state

Cal Poly premiere tells a story of murder, loss, progress, and memory

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- FROM FEW ...:  Jeffrey Azevedo, Shawn Murphy, Thom Waldman, Chase Mullins, Jonathan Shadrach -  - PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • FROM FEW ...: Jeffrey Azevedo, Shawn Murphy, Thom Waldman, Chase Mullins, Jonathan Shadrach
... COME MANY :  Delilah Shank, Kerry DiMaggio, Valerie Slitor, Darrell Haynes, and Caitlin Steinmann bring the voices of Laramie to life. - PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • ... COME MANY : Delilah Shank, Kerry DiMaggio, Valerie Slitor, Darrell Haynes, and Caitlin Steinmann bring the voices of Laramie to life.
Eleven years ago a 21-year-old college student was pistol whipped, tortured, tied to a fence post and left to die in a city high on a plain between two mountain ranges: Laramie, Wyoming, also known as the Gem City of the Plains. In the decade that followed, people forgot. Federal hate-crime legislation that might have helped protect the young gay man passed through the Senate and House of Representatives only to be vetoed by George Bush in 2007. This nation’s motto these days seems to be “We Will Never Forget,” but one man’s personal horror falls outside the periphery of atrocities that will remain within collective memory.

 

The Tectonic Theater Project has resisted this trend; one month after Matthew Shepard’s death nearly one dozen company members  descended upon the city of Laramie, Wyoming. One year and 200 interviews later, the company had the base material for The Laramie Project, a performance that gave voice to the townspeople while telling Shepard’s story. Since its debut in February 2000, both universities and professional theater companies have staged The Laramie Project. And on Oct. 12 Cal Poly will host the debut reading of Tectonic Theater Project’s follow-up piece, The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, directed by recent Cal Poly theater and engineering department graduate Jeffrey Azevedo.

 

“Originally, because I love theater, this was an opportunity,” said Azevedo, who was approached by the theater department about directing the project. “I love to be involved with theater. As I got into the project and learned more about the circumstances, I began to think it’s very important. It’s still an issue. Ten years later a lot hasn’t changed.”

 

- LARAMIE:  Laramie Project: 10 Years Later is being staged at Cal Poly’s Chumash Auditorium on Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. The performance is free to the public. Donations will be accepted, and benefit The Matthew Shepard Foundation, San Luis Obispo County AIDS Support Network, and Cal Poly Arts. For more information visit tectonictheaterproject.org or laramieproject.com. -
  • LARAMIE: Laramie Project: 10 Years Later is being staged at Cal Poly’s Chumash Auditorium on Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. The performance is free to the public. Donations will be accepted, and benefit The Matthew Shepard Foundation, San Luis Obispo County AIDS Support Network, and Cal Poly Arts. For more information visit tectonictheaterproject.org or laramieproject.com.
The company’s second Laramie Project is based on a second round of interviews conducted by company members one decade after Shepard’s murder. Rather than focus on Shepard, the emphasis is on the townspeople of Laramie who endured the rollercoaster media spotlight. The interviews included everyone from the killers to life-long townspeople to homosexual residents, and 50 distinct voices will emerge from the reading, a few of these with only one or two lines. Shepard’s mother, Judy, is one of these voices, now a forerunner in the battle for homosexual rights. Gay professors at the University of Wyoming, where Shepard was a student, discuss the challenges of obtaining benefits for their partners.

 

Cal Poly’s performance coincides with more than 125 other readings being staged at theaters and universities across the country, and serves as the highlight of the university’s National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11). While Azevedo doesn’t have a full-scale project, and the costume and set challenges that attend such a performance to contend with, the cultural and social significance of The Laramie Project undeniably raise the stakes.

Auditions took place on Sept. 25, a mere two and a half weeks before the reading. The cast of 10 people doesn’t have to worry about line memorization, and overall the production is simple, with an emphasis on text. As with the previous Laramie Project, the production jumps around a bit between characters and perspectives. The Tectonic Theater Project refers to these segments as “moments” rather than scenes.

While the Tectonic Theater Project has kept Shepard’s name alive, the aim of the Laramie Project is not to cram beliefs or political leanings down an audience’s throat. Its aim is simpler—to tell the complex story of a young man’s murder and the consequences for a small town in the country’s least populous state.

“I think it strives to not necessarily advocate a particular position,” said Azevedo, of the script. “After reading it there’s a sense that progress is slow. It’s hard work to change people’s mindsets.”

 

Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach thinks that if progress is slow, then people are too. Send tales of forward motion to aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

 

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