The Sam Houston State University Department of Theatre and Dance has received the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region VI Directors Choice Award for its October presentation of “The Laramie Project”.SHSU was one of three schools selected to advance at the competition. “The Director’s Choice Award was given to us by directors from other schools competing who viewed the plays and selected ours to advance to the video level,” said assistant professor Penelope Hasekoester, who directed the play at SHSU.The festival was held at Texas A&M Commerce Oct. 16-19. In addition to the award, SHSU received a recommendation at the festival to advance to the next level of the competition. If allowed to advance, SHSU would compete in February with winners of festivals from schools in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. “In Texas, we have four different levels of the competition,” Hasekoester said. “There is the local level, the video level, the regional level and the national level. Our next round is the video level. We will submit a tape and a portfolio with the director’s statement, program, photographs and things that show how we put this show together and what we were thinking.”The highest level of the competition is Nationals, which is held at the Kennedy Center American College Theater in Washington, D.C. Several SHSU actors won awards at the festival for their performances in the play, including Joel McDonald for “Excellence in Acting”, Crys McDonald for “Excellence in Stage Management” and Kevin Crouch for “Excellence in Video Effects”. These students were selected at the local level by a regional committee and will move on to the regional level.Theatre students Spencer Plachy, Sofia Gomez and Chelsea Fry received nominations for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Irene Ryan Scholarship Award at the competition. These students will also move on to the regional level at a February competition in Fort Worth, Texas, if selected. Hasekoester said she is very pleased with the results of the competition.”It’s really exciting that we advanced with the show. It was a very difficult play to do, very challenging for the students,” Hasekoester said. ” ‘The Laramie Project’ is a show that focuses on the people in that community and (deals with) the questions of ‘how do we teach each other to hate?’ and ‘how do we break away from it?’ “”The Laramie Project” is the tragic story of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten to death because he was gay. Shepard met his attackers at a campus bar in Laramie, Wyo., on Oct. 7, 1998. They told Shepard that they too were gay in order to lure him to a remote area later that night, where they tied him to a split rail fence and tortured him.A cyclist found Shepard nearly 18 hours later. He was still tied to the fence, unconscious, covered in flood and numb from hypothermia. He died five days later at a Colorado hospital.The play, written after Shepard’s death, stirred controversy in the media. The Tectonic Theater Project of New York went to Laramie and interviewed residents to get their response to the murder. The script was written based on Laramie residents’ response.After the play was written, it was quickly dubbed “one of the 10 best plays of the year” by Time magazine.Eight regional chairs from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre supervise the festivals and award distribution on the local and regional levels. The program attracts participation from about 1,800 students from colleges and universities across the country each year. Nearly 160 million people have attended the 10,000 plays that have been performed by schools participating in the competition.The Kennedy Center’s founding chairman, Roger Stephens, created the program in 1969. Eight SHSU students, including Kregg Daily, Haley Dyes, Sofia Gomez, Joel McDonald, Spencer Plachy and Sarah Ripper portrayed 60 different characters in SHSU’s performance of the play. Senior Crys McDonald served as stage manager. “The Laramie Project” was performed at SHSU Oct. 2 through Oct. 5.