Kent Trumbull Theatre presents “Ten Years Later”

Amy Cooknick

Why should I care?

“The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” is a true story about one town’s reaction to the murder of a gay college student. The play forces audiences to think about how their actions affect the lives of individuals in their own community.

When students and community members come together this weekend at the Kent Trumbull Theatre, they will not just be performing a play; they will be reenacting recent history.

“The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” takes audiences back to Laramie, Wyoming 10 years after Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student, died after being beaten and tied to a fence post Oct. 6-7, 1998. Shepard’s murder was labeled as a homophobic hate crime and brought global attention to the issue.

The original “Laramie Project” premiered in 2000 as a collection of interviews gathered from Laramie residents one month after Shepard’s murder. “Ten Years Later” features interviews conducted in Laramie with the same group of residents in 2008 to see how life has changed in the decade following the infamous murder.

Daniel Nadon, associate theatre professor at Kent Trumbull and director of “Ten Years Later,” said he was intrigued by the differences between the two plays, and wanted to explore them in front of a Kent audience.

“The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” will be performed Oct. 7-9, 14-16 (8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays) at Kent Trumbull Theatre, 4314 Mahoning Avenue NW, Warren, OH 44483 (330-847-0571), Nadon said. Tickets are free for Kent State students, faculty and staff.

“I’ve always been a fan of the original play,” Nadon said. “I think it really speaks to a community’s response to violence. I feel strongly that instead of responding to a community’s response to violence, ‘Ten Years Later’ talks about the healing process after and how much healing has not been done.”

Nadon said his cast for “Ten Years Later” includes Kent Trumbull students, as well as community members and local K – 12 students.

Hannah Gillespie, junior computer technology major at Kent Trumbull, said she portrays seven different characters in the play.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Gillespie said. “I get to play both sides. The pro-gay rights, which is the side I’m on personally, and then I also get to play roles that are looking at it in a different way. It’s very unique. I have to really dedicate time to making each (character) distinct.”

Gillespie said she spent a lot of time researching her characters in order to learn about the real people behind them.

“Because it’s a real person, I didn’t want to make it completely my own because I need to do this person justice,” Gillespie said of her role as gay-rights activist Zackie Salmon.

Nadon said understanding the characters and their actions is an important part of exploring the deeper meaning behind “Ten Years Later.”

“Whether it’s violence or homelessness or anything else that goes on,” Nadon said, “as a community we are responsible for it in some way, and we have to decipher why this occurs in our community and then promote social change that might affect that. It’s not about us against them; it’s about us together learning to handle the things that happen within our communities.”

In order to further the learning experience gained from “Ten Years Later,” Nadon said the opening performance will be followed by a brief discussion on the show and a question-and-answer session with members of Kent Trumbull Theatre, LGBT Studies and Justice Studies.

“I believe in theatre for social change, where we can look at our lives and our communities’ responses to things,” Nadon said. “Theatre is a good vehicle to promote a dialogue between various people with various ideas. This (play), although it has its moments of drama, really is reflective.”

Nadon said he wants audiences who attend “Ten Years Later” to question what has changed in the past twelve years as a result of Matthew Shepard’s death.

Gillespie also said she wants the audience to think about human rights and to believe in their own self-worth after witnessing Shepard’s story.

“The story of Matthew Shepard is very unique and beautiful in terms of rights,” Gillespie said. “And he’s just one person. The thing that I want people to walk away with is that they need to stand up for themselves. I want people to watch the show and think, ‘I’m different and that’s okay. I like who I am and I want people to know that.’ I want them to believe in themselves.”

Contact Amy Cooknick at [email protected].