“The Laramie Project”: ‘Having conversations with theater about LGBTQ+ issues is a really powerful tool’

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Susie Jaffe

The cast of “The Laramie Project” practices on the stage to prepare for their performances on Oct. 21 and Oct. 23.

This year’s September Show discusses the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard and the effects his death had on the LGBTQ+ community.

After a year where Central’s Drama Club could not perform a typical five-show season, “The Laramie Project,” directed by Susie Jaffe, English teacher and one of the Drama Club sponsors, will be performed Thursday Oct. 21 and Saturday Oct. 23.

Written by playwright Moisés Kaufman, “The Laramie Project” discusses the aftermath of the murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming, in 1998.

“I was in high school when Matthew Shepard was murdered, and I think that was a really formative experience for me to see a young gay man killed for the way that he is and the way that he is perfect,” Jaffe said. “I think that doing [this] show [will help] to build a space for students to feel cherished and safe.”

Peter Hutcheon, social worker and sponsor of Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA), was also in high school when the murder occurred.

“I remember learning about it when I was in high school, and it speaks to the gravity of the crime and the situation that [the impact on the LGBTQ+ community] still looms large so many years later,” Hutcheon said.

GSA met with the cast of “The Laramie Project” on Tuesday Oct. 12 to ensure that the cast accurately portrays members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“[We talked with GSA and asked] questions on what it’s like to be part of the community when [we talk about the effects of these conflicts on the community],” said Juliana Wittrock, junior, who plays multiple characters in the show and is a member of the Drama Advisory Board.

The discussion between GSA and the cast allowed everyone to talk over the importance of the play and its potential effects on the audience.

“The two things [we focused on] are representation, and why it matters, why this project is important, and why, as someone who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community, seeing yourself portrayed through another medium matters,” Hutcheon said. “Secondly, [we talked about] how discriminatory actions hurt and how that shapes people for the rest of their lives.”

Additionally, the cast is putting in the work to make sure that they perform the material in an appropriate way.

“What we’re doing is asking a lot of questions, and we’re performing the script exactly as written. I think that’s really important,” Jaffe said. “We’ve done a lot of research and talked about the actual events that happened in Laramie [Wyo.] and the people and players.”
Wittrock, Jaffe, and Hutcheon said they hope that the show will educate Central students about LGBTQ+ topics.
“I hope this will show students at Central what impact their words can make and how little things, and even big things, that they do have such an impact on people in certain communities,” Wittrock said. ” [I hope it also will] make them aware of the community here that’s [LGBTQ+].” 

Hutcheon echoed this sentiment and highlighted how putting on the show reflects its importance in today’s world.

“I think [that a production of a show like “The Laramie Project” is] a sign of the fact that people are becoming more and more aware that representation matters and it’s important to tell the stories of folks whose stories haven’t always been told,” Hutcheon said.

“The Laramie Project” will be performed Thursday Oct. 21 and Saturday Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at ticketpeak.com/hcdrama and are free to students with an activity pass. GSA will also have a talkback and Q&A after the show on Oct. 23.

If you are interested in joining Drama Club, visit hinsdaledrama.com or email sponsor Susie Jaffe:sjaffe@hinsdale86.org