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Sunday, August 12, 2012

First-Person: Donald Rees goes into The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later

Learning Laramie
by Donald Rees

I've always wanted to work on The Laramie Project. I read the original script almost a decade ago and it moved me. But ten years ago, the idea of Brave New Productions putting on a show that called for over 75 characters seemed far too ambitious. Over the years, the original Laramie Project has gone on to be one of the most performed plays in modern theatre. Schools and independent theatres love to do it, and it's easy to see why. Not only is the story emotional and important, on the practical side of things very few physical elements are required to bring Laramie to life, except for the actors.

I feel that Brave New Productions has now grown in a way that Laramie doesn't seem too ambitious anymore. Indeed, everything seemed in place except for the script itself. Like I already mentioned, it's a popular piece of theatre. A quick Google will show a handful of performances in Canada this year alone. If Brave New Productions was going to go forward with our first licensed show, doing one that had already been seen by so many people locally might not be the best choice. Still, the subject matter and style of Laramie wouldn't stop nibbling at the back of my thoughts.

The Laramie Project is about the after-math of the Matthew Shepherd story. His murder was a long time ago, and there have been so many hate-related murders between then and now that it's understandable if the name doesn't ring a bell. Matthew was robbed, tied to a fence and beaten to death because of his sexuality in Laramie, Wyoming. The story became a media sensation. A theatre company, Tectonic Theatre, went to Laramie and interviewed the citizens. Those transcripts (over 200 individual interviews) became The Laramie Project.

The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later is about Tectonic Theatre returning to Laramie to see how things have changed. It also checks in with Matthew's murderers and family. 10 Years Later is a stand-alone piece of theatre and very different from the original, though the style and structure are similar.

At Brave New Productions we've devoted our entire portfolio to comedy and developing original scripts. At first glance, one might assume that deciding to do Laramie wasn't our natural next step but I feel the opposite is true. Over the years, I've met tremendously talented performers who've done well making audiences laugh but who've also been itching to show off another side of their skills. On a personal level, the idea of doing one project with more substance than the average comedy also seemed rather appealing. When Tectonic Theatre Project announced that they were releasing a sequel to The Laramie Project, I was very interested. How rare is it that any piece of theatre should get a sequel? It happens in movies but not on stage. The fact that a story I was so fond of had been given that treatment convinced me that we had to do the project.

Things have lined up well for the start of our project and I hope to update readers on our progress as we work towards our October 12th opening.  There will be plenty of challenges along the way (there always are) but I've never been more excited or passionate about something in my life. Our massive 20 person cast is in place and already deep in rehearsals. We're very excited to be the ones producing the Montreal Premiere of "The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later".

Brave New Productions presents "The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later" for the first time in Montreal the weekend of October 12th, 2012 at ArtNeuf Theatre in Parc Lafontaine. Tickets and more information available on 2$ from every ticket purchased before September 1st will be donated to The Matthew Shepherd Foundation.

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