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Off The Lake Productions looks to shed light on hate crimes with ‘The Laramie Project’

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Hannah Portmann as Amanda Gronich (Left), Evan Shaw as Father Roger Schmit (Center) and Ashton Ansel as Stephen Mead Johnson (Right) rehearsing for “The Laramie Project.” Credit: Sarah Upton | Lantern reporter

Off The Lake Productions will be performing “The Laramie Project” on Saturday in hopes of creating dialog about hate crime as part of the organization’s peer theater program.

“The Laramie Project” is a play based on the true story of  a 21-year-old named Matthew Shepard who was murdered in his hometown of Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998 because he was a gay man. The play follows the aftermath of Shepard’s murder by featuring conversations with Laramie community members about his death and their reactions to it.

A “talk back” will follow the show to encourage audience members to talk about hate crimes toward the LGBTQ community.

Brooke Marston, a third-year in psychology and the facilitation assistant for the production company’s peer theater, will be facilitating the discussion in addition to playing multiple roles on stage during “The Laramie Project.”

“We want to create dialog where people feel comfortable expressing any and all opinions,” Marston said. “We want to have an open conversation without one side putting anyone down or just for it to be an honest and truthful conversation between peers.”

Off The Lake’s peer theater program puts on multiple smaller productions throughout the year and visits residence halls outside of the organization’s annual musical.

Jordan Ginsberg,  a fourth-year in finance and director of OTL’s peer theater program said the goal of peer theater is to act as the connection between the production company and the campus community. She said peer theater prompts conversation about situations students might face but do not often talk about.

Ginsberg said the peer theater executive board chose “The Laramie Project” because they felt it fits the social mission of the organization.

“(It is) something that is still relevant to be talked about and something that definitely resonates with our core values of peer theater,” Ginsberg said.

Ginsberg said the group is using a simple stage set and the main focus is showing how the Laramie community members were impacted by Shepard’s murder.

“We have a very minimal set,” Ginsberg said. “We’re just trying to set the tone. There’s a lot of different characters, so we’re trying to create a real emphasis on the different characters and how the community members were all affected in such different ways.”

Marston said she hopes the show and the talk afterward bring to light that hate crimes are still an issue that demands the community’s attention.

“This is an important subject to talk about because LGBTQ issues still exist and specifically, the case of Matthew Shepard brought up the fact that there were no hate crime laws in Wyoming at the time,” Marston said. “Hate crime is a thing that still exists and it changes shape every once in a while, but it’s still an ever-present issue and I think the conversation needs to be had from a stance of open-mindedness.”

Marston said she hopes the performance and the following discussion allows participants to better understand the issue of hate crimes and provoke them to do something about it.

“While on the surface it seems like it’s an easy thing to tackle, like just don’t be hateful, but a lot of the time people are just more complicated than that,” Marston said. “It takes having a conversation to actually deeply understand the issue and to actually help fix it.”

“The Laramie Project” will be performed Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Sullivant Hall Auditorium. Admission is 1 canned good or a $1 donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Only credit cards and Venmo will be accepted.

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