Inside “The Laramie Project”

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The cast of “The Laramie Project” rehearse for their upcoming performances on April 17 – 18 in Lone Mountain’s Studio Theater. (Chris Witte|Foghorn)

The San Francisco Foghorn sat down with performing arts and social justice major Maro Guevera to discuss his direction of “The Laramie Project. “

San Francisco Foghorn: How did you become involved in the play?
Maro Guevara: This is a PASJ show. I’m a theater minor within PASJ.

SFF: What shows have you worked on in the past?
MG: Most of the stuff I’ve done at USF has been through College Players. I’ve been in three of their musicals and recently I also got to do a cabaret called “Gross Indecency” (which is, strangely enough, written by the same people who created “Laramie Project”). Last year I was also part of a PASJ show called “Metamorphoses.”

SFF: What is your role in “The Laramie Project?”
MG: I am the director. It’s my first time ever directing. Well, that’s not true. I also did College Players’ Play-in-a-Day. But this is the first time where I’ve directed something where the rehearsal time was more than just 12 hours.

SFF: What is “The Laramie Project” about?
MG: Most people our age vaguely remember that in 1998 there was a really high-profile hate crime that happened in Laramie, Wyoming. A gay college student named Matthew Shepard was brutally tortured and killed by two young men.
The play is written by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project. It uses real life interviews with the residents of Laramie. In our production, a group of ten actors become about 60 different characters.

SFF: Why was it chosen? By whom?

MG: I proposed the show to the PASJ department pretty late in the game. The deadline for submitting cabaret proposals was approaching quickly. I had been thinking about doing this other show called “The Shawl” but when I realized that this was possibly the only time that I’d be able to direct something at USF, I knew I wanted to do something that was really meaningful to me. “The Laramie Project” has always been in the back of my mind since I saw the HBO film version of it years ago.

What is so great about this show is that so many people have at least some point of reference to it. It has become this really present thing in our culture where people are like “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that.” or “My high school did that,” and that piques people’s curiosities immediately, and when they finally watch it they feel like they are participating in this wider movement.

The show is incredibly written and even now, 11 years after Matthew’s death, is so relevant. We look at how far we’ve come in some ways and then there are other things that just make you stop and really reflect on the fact that so many people are filled with irrational hatred towards people they don’t understand. I feel like the gay marriage debate has really brought the issue of homosexuality in America out of the closet again, the same way that Matthew’s death did back in 1998. But now we are talking about a sort of institutionalized violence that is making a group of people into second-class citizens here in the states. And there are still hate crimes perpetrated all the time against LGBTQ people. Why isn’t there comprehensive legislation that protects LGBTQ people in all states? What’s going to happen to ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?’ The Defense of Marriage Act? There are people on death row in Baghdad simply for being LGBTQ. The U.S. government has considerable sway in the region as it continues its national building agenda, so why hasn’t it intervened here? It is such a crucial point in history to be talking about these things again and I think it is good to honor the history of a play and event that was so instrumental in initiating this national discussion.

SFF: What are your hopes for the performance? Both on a personal level, for the cast and in a greater sense of impact on the university/audience.
MG: I hope that people will take a moment to think about violence in their own lives. One of my favorite lines in the show happens when a Catholic priest tells two other characters that calling someone a ‘fag’ or a ‘dyke’ is violence. We forget the power of our words in shaping our community. With the recent allegations of sexual violence on our campus, I think we really have to take into consideration how our everyday interactions can build a climate that breeds violence.

SFF: What was the rehearsing process?
MG: We’ve rehearsed for three weeks, which is very short for this kind of production.

SFF: How has the cast worked together?
MG: The cast has been absolutely incredible. Everyone has collaborated in a really open and honest way. They’ve built a safe environment, which has allowed people to take chances and grow immensely in a short amount of time. I’ve also really appreciated the candid discussions we’ve had about the issues at hand. Everyone is so well spoken and brings a unique perspective. This play inevitably sparks a lot of emotions and dialogue, which is why we’re planning of having a talk back on both nights right after the show.

SFF: What have been the challenges?
MG: The short time frame has been a very big challenge. It’s my first time directing which has been a little daunting, but I feel very supported by the wonderfully capable people around me. The PASJ department has been extraordinarily helpful. They are really supportive of this effort, which has made all the difference.

SFF: As you get closer to the show, how are you feeling?
MG: The closer we get to opening night the more anxious I am to share this with our community. I feel like we’ve been holding it to ourselves for a while now, and I’m excited to fill in that missing link, which is an audience that we can engage and hopefully transform.
SFF: When does the performance run? Where? How can people get tickets?
MG: Admission is 100 percent free. April 17 and 18, Studio Theater on Lone Mountain. The show time is 8 p.m. for both nights.

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