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Another look at evil

REVISIT: TAFE acting students Jayden Gobbe-Bezzina, Bradley Hall, Joel Mews, Jackson Vaughan and Leanne Sewell will star in the show.WHEN Hunter TAFE’s Regional Institute of Performing Arts staged in 2014 The Laramie Project, the story of an American town’s reaction to a gross murder, audiences sat in stunned silence at its end.
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The work, based largely on more than 200 interviews the original staging group, Tectonic Theatre Project, did with residents of Laramie, in Wyoming, looked at the slaying of openly gay 21-year-old university student Matthew Shepard by two men around his own age who he met in a hotel bar in October 1998.

When he asked if they could give him a lift home, they took him to a rural property outside the town, tied him to a fence and savagely beat him with a gun butt, then left him there in the freezing night.While Shepard was taken down by a passerby 18 hours later, he died after five days in hospital.

The Laramie Project, which premiered in 2000, has beenstaged worldwide since, and audience reactions to the show led the Tectonic Theatre team to return to Wyoming in 2008, 10 years after Shepard was murdered, and look at the responses of the townspeople in that decade.

The sequel, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, has repeated the success of the first work, and RIPA is staging a production at the Civic Playhouse from March 17 to 19.

The show, again directed by TAFE acting teacher David Brown, features the five members of this year’s Advanced Diploma of Arts (Acting) course – Jayden Gobbe-Bezzina, Bradley Hall, Joel Mews, Leanne Sewell and Jackson Vaughan – playing more than 40 people who feature in the story.

The two most prominent figures are the murderers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, whom the development team were able to interview in jail.The writers were unable to talk to them for The Laramie Project and had to use their words in court transcripts. So they now revealmore about their feelings and actions on the night of the crime.

There is also evidence in the sequel of greater acceptance of gay people in the USA as a result of Matthew Shepard’s slaying, with a gay female lecturer at the university in Laramie being elected to Wyoming’s state’s legislature.

Audience members won’t have to be familiar with The Laramie Project to become caught up in the sequel. The opening repeats the main facts associated with Shepard’s death, and projections of photos of the town and its people in the 1998-2008 period will help to establish the setting.

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later plays nightly at the Civic Playhouse from March 17, to March 19, at 7.30pm. Tickets: $22, concession $18. Bookings: Civic Ticketek, 4929 1977.

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