From March 30 until April 3, with a preview on March 29, Tomo Suru Players will be performing their production of The Laramie Project at Studio 1398. First performed in 2000, The Laramie Project is a play depicting the actions surrounding the death of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man from Wyoming brutally murdered in a hate crime.
In an interview, Gerald Williams, director and founder of the Tomo Suru Players, discussed the motivations for the curation of this project. While speaking with a group of young actors, he realized that “many of them had never heard of The Laramie Project.” In that moment, he said, he understood that “the memory of this project is something that could be lost.”
“It’s such an important point in, I believe, the history of human rights,” stated Gerald. He continued, “I believe that part of the point of The Laramie Project is [that] it carries on. It resonates today as it did 20 years ago, it needs to be passed on generation to generation.”
With this production in particular, Williams stated, “The goal was to have the actors feel it. If the actors feel it, if there is that level of satisfaction and growth with them, everything else works.” Another massive goal of the production, says Williams, is “getting young people to see it.”
In an attempt to make this goal a reality, Tomo Suru Players are looking for sponsors for their Youth Sponsorship Packages. These packages give young people connected to LGBTQ+ and anti-bullying campaigns an opportunity to see The Laramie Project. They currently have 40 tickets to give out through community groups, schools, colleges, and universities — including SFU.
Working on a project like this certainly takes its toll. When Williams first heard about the tragic death of Matthew Shepard, he was living in Japan. “You think, ‘people don’t do this, in this extreme. . .’ apparently, we do. [. . .] Even though we touch the depths of horror, it ends positively,” says Williams. In an attempt to help foster an environment of open discussion, after each performance, the creative team and actors will be conducting a live talk with the audience.
Two such actors are SFU alumni Kelly Sheridan and Tony Giroux. The unique perspectives they have brought to the production were directly influenced by their time at SFU.
Sheridan states, “I was in the theatre program at SFU at the time when he [Shepard] was murdered, and Matthew Shepard and I would be almost the same age if he was still alive today.” Sheridan also brings a knowledge of the show stemming from her viewing the original off- Broadway production by Tectonic Theatre company, as recommended by an SFU professor
Giroux first learned about Matthew Shepard’s story in a class at SFU. “Part of the lecture was on how Matthew Shepard had been branded in the media,” he said. “It’s interesting to hear about it from a more analytical point of view in school, and now it’s really cool to be diving into the more emotional aspect of it.”
The importance of the piece comes from the real life events that it discusses, and the ripple effect those events had in society. As Sheridan argued, Matthew Shepard is “up there with Harvey Milk and Stonewall.” She went on, saying his story has “reverberated through our culture, where people who haven’t heard about him experience the effects of his murder, and the subsequent trial, because it’s changed the way that we perceive bullying.
“It’s easy to think that what happened 20 years ago doesn’t happen now,” Sheridan continued. But she warned, “There are opinions, there are values that are just as strong as they were 20 years ago [. . .] it’s important that we keep having that conversation.” The Laramie Project promises to be just that conversation starter.
Tickets are $30 for adults, $20 for students/low income, with half price tickets for the March 29th preview.