At a time when Americans express more hatred against “others” — and more loudly — than in a long, long time, Staples Players addresses the issue of differences head-on.
This weekend, the stellar high school troupe produces “The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later.” The follow-up to last year’s “Laramie Project,” explores how that town has changed — politically, socially, religiously and educationally.
Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long have done “Laramie Project” 3 times. This is their 1st time directing the “10 Years Later” companion piece.
Roth says they are attracted to the shows — about the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard, and its cascading effects on a small Wyoming town — because “the messages are huge.”
“The first play examined Laramie’s unraveling, and dealt with how and why people hate,” says Roth. “The second one deals with change and complacency. How do we effect change when we forget important issues that are not in the forefront? How do those issues slip away when not dealt with directly?”
Roth and Long are also intrigued by the writing. All text comes from direct interviews. There’s a thrilling documentary feel — for performers, directors and audiences.
The duo are excited too by the “cycle” of the shows. Staples is one of very few high schools to produce both dramas.
As they’ve done so many times before, Players is tackling a provocative, challenging subject.
“Because we have the means and opportunity to do so,” Roth says simply.
“Theater has the power to evoke thought, and bring about change. We are privileged to live in a town that allows us to produce thought-provoking work like ‘The Laramie Project.’ Our audiences are intelligent, well-read and well-traveled. They look to the next generation to challenge them, and make them think.”
Roth notes Players’ long history of producing shows that other high schools shy away from. In the 1960s and ’70s, dramas like “War and Pieces” (an original piece) and “Black Elk Speaks” dared Westporters to think deeply about controversial subjects.
In the early 1990s, students made national news by fighting to stage “Falsettos.” The musical — to be revived on Broadway this year — concerned love, homosexuality, Judaism and the then-recent AIDS crisis.
“Everyone involved still thinks of that show as a defining moment in their lives,” Roth explains. “Unfortunately, we rarely say that about shows that are light and fluffy. Yes, we remember them as fun, but they won’t stay with us too long.”
Noting that theater has the power to change thoughts, lives and points of view, Roth says that the shows his young actors love most are “challenging, dramatic pieces that are emotionally taxing to perform”: “Hamilton,” “Rent,” “Spring Awakening.” All were risks, for writers and actors. None have happy endings. But they inspire audiences to examine their own lives, and the world around them.
The Players director calls Matthew Shepard’s murder “perhaps the most famous hate crime we’ve seen.” As Americans loudly debate how to treat those who are in any way “different” from others, “The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later” reminds us strongly that actions have consequences.
(“The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later” will be performed in Staples’ Black Box Theatre this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 19, 20 and 21 [7:30 p.m.], and Sunday, May 22 [3 p.m.]. For more information, click here. For tickets, click here.)