‘The Laramie Project’ debuts on Kaneland stage

By on February 2, 2014
The cast of “The Laramie Project” includes Justin Schaller (back row, from left), Ben Mitchinson and Patrick Murphy; Rebecca Hof (middle row), Pamela Gianakakos, Sabrina Massa, Laszlo Reed, Peter Lopatin and Trisha Mills; Douglas Orlyk (front row) and Caitrin Mills. Photo courtesy of Sally Jane Photography

‘It’s a powerful, powerful production.’
KANELAND—The play “The Laramie Project,” presented by Kaneland Arts Initiative (KAI) and partnered with the Kindness Campaign, did not open on its expected opening day last Friday, due to frigid weather. However, the show was back on Saturday and Sunday.

Maria Dripps-Paulson, executive director of KAI, said the cancellation was justified.

“It was windy,” she said. “And the drifts—if the wind blew always the exact same direction, we’d be fine. Because it (kept) changing—at one point it was north and then it kind of came from the west—we just couldn’t keep up with the drift.”

Dripps-Paulson said Saturday had a turnout numbering in the 50s. Sunday had about 40 people.

“I believe that every person that came and saw the performance was moved by the performances,” Dripps-Paulson said. “It’s a powerful, powerful production.”

The drama played out on the intimate stage of Kaneland High School’s Black Box Theatre, depicting the feedback from the townspeople in Laramie, Wyo., following the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998.

Shepard was a gay college student who was driven to a remote area outside of Laramie where he was tied to a fence and beaten with a pistol.

“The Laramie Project” consisted of 11 cast members. According to Dripps-Paulson, six cast members were adults and five were Kaneland High School students. The youngest in the show were two freshman. “The Laramie Project” also showcased the acting talents of Kaneland School Board member Peter Lopatin and Pamela Gianakakos, who is a first-grade teacher at McDole Elementary School.

Each cast member played numerous roles—typically between six and eight characters.

Diane McFarlin, assistant principal at Kaneland High School and artistic director of “The Laramie Project,” referred to “The Laramie Project” play as a community project.

“We feel strongly that as part of what we try to do in bringing art to the community, that this was an important piece to spur and inspire really good conversations regarding acceptance and certainly kindness for all,” McFarlin said.

KAI and the Kindness Campaign lead an audience discussion following each performance.

“Certainly from our talk-back sessions that we had this weekend, our kids have experienced some feelings of not feeling very safe in school if they’re different,” McFarlin said. “It’s important to see that there are all kinds of people in this world. And everyone has a right to be safe and be accepted in our community.”

What can audiences learn from “The Laramie Project”?

“Out of great tragedy there is hope. Always,” Dripps-Paulson said. “So I think that would be a strong and good message for people to learn from. And I would hope that it would open up some conversations among people to see what true acceptance is.”

About Stefanie Frazier

Stefanie Frazier is a freelance reporter for the Elburn Herald. You can reach her at SFrazier@elburnherald.com.

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