The Williston Theatre’s spring production this year is The Laramie Project, a play by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project that was based on a small town’s reaction to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shephard, a University of Wyoming student. During a recent break between rehearsals, Emily Ditkovski, the director of the Williston production, and Persis Ticknor-Swanson ’14, a cast member, sat down to talk about preparing for the play, audience empowerment, and bullying.
The Williston Theater’s production of The Laramie Project opens on April 25 at 7:00 p.m. Performances continue on April 27 and May 2-4 at 7:00 p.m. and April 26 at 7:30 p.m. Click here to purchase tickets online.
Emily Ditkovski, Director
Can you tell me why you chose to do The Laramie Project for the spring 2013 play?
I think the Pioneer Valley is a little bit of a bubble in terms of our perception of LGBT rights and that’s wonderful, but sometimes we need to look at the world outside the Pioneer Valley. I have been hearing a lot of stories about local bullying of LGBT students and thought we needed to take another look. The thing about this play is that it is so incredibly beautiful in so many ways, but it doesn’t really answer a lot of questions, it asks questions. I love theater that creates a dialogue.
What made you think of bringing Scott Barrow from the Tectonic Group to campus?
I wanted the cast to understand where this play came from, both in terms of a moment in time, because 1998 is now a long time ago, and also the theatricality of how it was created. The play was formed in a very non-traditional way, which, in the last 10 or 15 years, has become a lot more traditional. For the cast and crew to get a look at a new approach to creating theater was also really important.
What reactions did you hear from the students after Mr. Barrow’s visit?
It was definitely a long weekend, but this experience has completely endowed the rehearsal process with something different. We have a common language; I can say this character needs to play with architecture and they know exactly what I’m talking about.
What do you want the students and the actors to take away from this performance?
Tons, that something very small can make a big difference. Art can make a difference, and art is a big vehicle for social change. We’re doing workshops in conjunction with the play and every member of the cast and crew is creating a workshop around a specific theme related to the play. Topics include: homophobia, class, religion, art as a vehicle for social change, and communal responsibility. What this play is really about is the idea that we’re not all going to love each other, we’re not all going to be best friends forever, but I’m not going to hate you, and I’m not going to do terrible things to you.
Persis Ticknor-Swanson ’14, Cast Member
What roles do you play in The Laramie Project?
I play Reggie Fluty, the police officer who responded to the 911 call about Matthew. I am also Sherry Aanenson, Russell Henderson’s landlord.
What did you take away from working with Scott Barrow? Mr. Barrow taught us a lot about the idea of “moments” instead of “scenes.” He really helped us broaden our understanding of how to act using the elements of theater. He started small, and gave us some simple, but effective, tools to bring into our own repertoire. He left us with a greater understanding of Laramie, Wyoming as a town and a community, not just a crime scene.
Can you tell me a bit about the workshop you are running and what you hope people will take away from it?
My group is leading a workshop about homophobia. We want to make this issue relevant to Williston Northampton students. Homophobia comes out of fear and hate, and we cannot perpetuate those ideas if we ever hope to end them. We want kids to leave more aware of the homophobia they see.
What do you hope that your fellow students, cast and crew members, and greater community take away from the play?
This play gives the audience more questions than it does answers; but I would hope people leave with lots of thoughts swirling in their mind, with a drive to be proactive to end hate. I would hope that people understand the love and common humanity we all share, and see more than just labels.