On October 12, 1998 a 21-year-old college student was beaten, tortured, tied to a fence and left for dead. The two perpetrators—who are both serving double life sentences without parole—admitted they specifically targeted a homosexual to persecute. Since both Federal and Wyoming state law had no provisions for hate crimes based on sexual orientation, liberal politicians began rallying for a special way to punish this kind of violence. After a decade of Republican stonewalling (an ironic word considering the context), the Obama administration was able to sign the Matthew Shepard Act into law in 2009.
Sadness and outrage ignited by this murder sparked numerous films and a play, The Laramie Project, devised by Tony-nominated director Moisés Kaufman and his company, the Tectonic Theater Project. The group visited Laramie, WY, where Shepard was slain, and conducted hundreds of interviews with the locals just to get a sense of the town, its reaction, and the legacy of Shepard’s death.
First staged in Denver in 2000, The Laramie Project has played off-Broadway and even in Laramie, as well as in high schools and colleges across the country. Long Island has seen readings of the piece, but this month may well bring the first full, local staging of the work, in a production by Adelphi University’s drama department at Adelphi Performing Arts Center’s 315-seat Olmstead Theater, February 15-20.
Theater department chair Nick Petron calls Laramie, “a beautiful, sensitive, frightening piece” that “this generation of college-age students needs to visit.” Referring to a seeming uptick in right-wing intolerance on such matters as same-sex marriage, don’t-ask-don’t-tell and a spate of recent gay-bashings, Petron told Pulse, “Reading the newspapers over the last year and a half, [the faculty] thought, `Oh my God, what’s going on out there?’ There is this great insensitivity again to alternate lifestyles.”
Regarding the AUPAC complex itself, Interim Executive Director William Prenevost told Pulse the arts center opened in the fall of 2008. The Olmstead was Adelphi’s original theater, which was fine but often left the music and dance departments scrambling. To answer that imbalance, the center includes a 500-seat concert hall, a small recital hall, a 170-seat dance facility and a 100-seat black box space, alongside the Olmstead.
Prenevost indicates the Center is working hard to expand audiences beyond students, faculty and staff. “The first year, there’s a great deal of hoopla and excitement, so you sell most of the seats. Also, we opened with Rent, because [author] Jonathan Larson was a student here [1982 BFA]. Last year, we did 55-60 percent houses overall, so you have to build; it takes awhile.”