Audience members approved of the Production Studies III's showcase of "The Laramie Project" in the Feb. 14 opening.

The production's minimalist set managed to create a representation of the written play that is known for its verbatim style as it reflects a community's feeling on the murder of Matthew Shepard.

The fast-moving, dialogue-heavy production of the theatre and dance department's rendition of "The Laramie Project" showed from Feb. 14 to Feb. 16 in the Cousins Studio Theatre.

Junior Meagan Rodriguez, director, felt slightly overwhelmed when she was asked to find the concept of the play, she said. But after spending enough time reading it, she knew which direction to choose for the production.

"For me, the huge attraction to the play was that this is not a preaching to the choir," Rodriguez said. "This is a play that presents what happened so that everyone--pro-gay rights, anti-gay rights, somewhere in-between--everybody has a voice and it forces the audience to make a decision about how they feel about every issue presented. I know that's what really attracted me to it and that's what I hope to bring out in the performance."

Senior Emily Brewster, costume designer, said the logistical challenge she faced had been having 11 actors play about 80 characters. She needed to find a way for the actors to wear the costumes in short amounts of time while having those outfits speak to the audience.

"I kind of went with signifiers like partial pieces of clothing," Brewster said. "So if somebody puts on a scarf, they are suddenly this person or if they put on a jacket they are suddenly that person, and that facilitated the speed of the play because we couldn't do full changes for every person but also it's not what is called for in the play. It really came out of [Rodriguez's] concept and how we all interacted with it."

In her use of color and light, senior Betsy Chester attempted to delineate space and location in the black box theatre as the lighting designer. Throughout the process, Chester said she tried to keep in mind the same neutral voice in the written play.

"We are just trying to present what has been this amazing script," Chester said. "The language used, it's amazing. So all we are trying to present is this script, in the most honest way possible."

The play itself is relevant to University of Richmond and the Richmond community. "The Laramie Project" is this year's selection for One Book, One Richmond.

"I think a lot of people think this play is about Matthew Shepard, and in some ways it is," Brewster said. "But in other ways it's more about what happened to the town because of what happened to Matthew Shepard. It's really important to see both the impact of our society's obsession with media and having everything being known, as well as the impact of people's hate and how that works within a town."

The Production Studies III course serves as the capstone for students in theatre. Dorothy Holland, chairwoman of the theatre and dance department, said the students had chosen the play and the production assignments, although faculty mentors constantly accompany them throughout the process like in other undergraduate seminars.

"They secure the performance rights," Holland said. "They do enormous research... research on the playwright, research on when the play was written, research on any issues related to the play, gathering visual research about the work.

"Like for this, they had to do research about the feel of the location, what is the community like. It's really a play about a community, about a tragic event that shocked, about a media that descends on the town and suddenly what was a fairly cohesive Western town becomes very divided over the issue."

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