Theater students get history lesson

Glenn Gullickson's picture
MILLENNIUM High School students Tyler Izzo, left, and Michael Simonetti rehearse their roles for the school’s upcoming production of The Laramie Project. To see all photos from this shoot, go to www.westvalleyview.com/pictures. View photo by Jordan Christopher
MILLENNIUM High School students Tyler Izzo, left, and Michael Simonetti rehearse their roles for the school’s upcoming production of The Laramie Project. To see all photos from this shoot, go to www.westvalleyview.com/pictures. View photo by Jordan Christopher

Play about murder of young gay man to be presented at Millennium High School

A West Valley high school theater group is learning about an incident from recent history as they stage a play about the reaction to the murder of a young gay man.

The Laramie Project, a story set after the murder of Matthew Shepard, will be presented Friday and Saturday at Millennium High School in Goodyear.

WHAT: The Laramie Project
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday
WHERE: Millennium High School, 14802 W. Wigwam Blvd., Goodyear
COST: $5
NOTE: Show is recommended for mature audiences only

I’ve been wanting to do something special, to tackle something that has some meaning, maybe help people,” said Kim Laguardia, who is directing a cast of 23 students.

It was October 1998 when Shepard was found beaten, unconscious and tied to a fence near Laramie, Wyo., after the 21-year-old college student had left a bar with two men who had offered him a ride.

As the story gained national attention, Shepard died six days later and the murder was denounced as a hate crime because of Shepard’s sexual orientation.

The Laramie Project, which premiered in 2000, deals with reactions to the murder drawn from hundreds of interviews with Laramie residents.

I’m old enough to remember when this actually happened,” Laguardia said, but she acknowledged that many of her students were introduced to the incident from almost 19 years ago through the play.

The students portray more than 60 characters in the play’s series of short scenes that cover the spectrum of opinion about the murder.

It’s serious material for theater students who Laguardia said typically do lighter fare.

For this one, I was more concerned about a message that was powerful that could educate people,” Laguardia said. “I’d like to be able to show a play that would have an impact on people and show them at the end of the day, we’re all people.”

While the play doesn’t depict the crime, Laguardia said a production that includes a replica of the fence Shepard was found on “can open up wounds.”

Laguardia said an important prop in the play is what she called “horrific signs” that the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church used in demonstrations after Shepard’s death.

The play’s language that was deemed too extreme for high school was toned down, she said.

Before rehearsals started at the first of the year, Laguardia said students and parents were informed of the play’s content and given the opportunity to opt-out.

The administration has been extremely supportive,” she said.

To learn more about the subject, Laguardia said the theater group worked with local members of GLAAD, a national organization that monitors LGBT depictions in the media.

As part of her effort to create a “safe space” around the play, Laguardia said the high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance has been invited to have a table at the theater.

Besides a history lesson, Laguardia said her students are learning to create multiple roles, with characters that have to look, act and sound different.

Actors will be wearing a basic costume that will be customized for each character with the use of accessories, Laguardia said.

The play’s set is also simple, using projection to create scenes that range from a barroom to a courtroom.

 

Glenn Gullickson can be reached at ggullickson@westvalleyview.com.

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