The Sam Houston State University theatre department is performing “The Laramie Project” at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Washington, D.C. April 14 and 15.
The group advanced from the local level in October 2002 at the Texas A&M festival with “The Laramie Project,” and continued from there to the video level of the Kennedy Center sponsored competition.
At the video level in Fort Worth last month, SHSU competed against schools from Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. SHSU received the Respondance Choice Award, and progressed to the regional competition.
There are eight or nine shows per each of the eight regions that participate in this level of the competition nationwide. Of the eight regions, a national committee chose four plays to attend the national festival in Washington, D.C., and SHSU made the cut.
“Essentially, winning is performing at the Kennedy Center,” said Penelope Hasekoester, assistant theatre professor and director of “The Laramie Project.”
The other three schools invited to perform during the national festival are Boston University, Boston; Towson University, Towson, Md.; and Franklin Pierce College, Ridge, N.H.
Hasekoester said the SHSU theatre group would have two performances of “Laramie,” one at 7:30 p.m. April 14, and another at 10:30 a.m. April 15. She said the group would also be acknowledged or receive an award for its performance.
“We’re recognized as a Kennedy Center affiliate for one year for being chosen to go,” Hasekoester said of another advantage that comes from being invited to the festival.
Hasekoester said SHSU chose “The Laramie Project” because of the message it sends to its audience.
“The message is strong,” she said. “We felt the message is really specific – what can we do to stop hate?”
“The Laramie Project” is based on a true story. In 1998 Matthew Shepard, a 21-year old homosexual student at the University of Wyoming, was tortured to death because of his lifestyle. His offenders took Shepard to a remote area on the night of Oct. 7, 1998, tied him to a fence and tortured him. Many hours later a passerby found Shepard bloody, unconscious and suffering from hypothermia. He was taken to a hospital where he died five days later.
A movie was made about the event, based on the opinions, thoughts and feelings about the townspeople of Laramie, Wyo., where this tragic hate crime took place.
After the movie was made, a play was based on the same idea, and named one of the year’s 10 best. SHSU picked up the play and performed the drama in October 2002.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is home to the professional performing arts in the Washington D.C. area.
Roger L. Stevens, the founding chairman of the Kennedy Center, began the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival to raise the standard of college level theater. Today the program has over 18,000 student and 600 college/university participants from all over the nation. Over 16 million people have attended the estimated 10,000 festival productions since the program’s start in 1969.