New Albany High School drama students are preparing for two concurrent productions about the murder of a gay college student near Laramie, Wyo.
"The subject matter is a challenge and the play itself is energizing for me because of the power of the story and the way it's told," said Elliott Lemberg, production director and drama adviser. "These are the kinds or productions I enjoy directing. Our goal is for the (plays) to educate people and initiate change."
The Laramie Project was written after University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was tortured and murdered in October 1998. Members of the Tectonic Theater Project from New York City visited Laramie and interviewed people in the town.
Ten years later, members of the Tectonic Theater Project returned to Laramie and interviewed people again for The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. They found many had forgotten the emotions and changes that Shepard's murder had prompted, said Natalie Wotring, a New Albany High School junior and assistant production director.
Lemberg said New Albany High School students performed The Laramie Project seven years ago. This year, the drama students are taking on the challenge of both The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.
The Laramie Project will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 3 and 10; The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 4 and 11; and both will be performed starting at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, April 5 and 12, at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts, 100 E. Dublin-Granville Road in New Albany.
Lemberg said it's been a challenge to find a new way to tell The Laramie Project, but he's working with the 30-member cast to use movement.
He said students have honed their skills working with members of the Available Light Theatre of Columbus and part of the cast of Cameron Mackintosh's version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, who are in Columbus as part of the company's North American tour.
Lemberg said the students are working with the two companies as part of a partnership with the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts, or CAPA.
Wotring said the productions are challenging, partly because the students have more lines to learn and partly because there are no small parts.
New Albany senior Kacie Iuvara, who portrays four characters in the two productions, said the actors also are challenged by the fact that they are portraying real people.
"We're portraying people who others can see or who have been seen," Iuvara said.
Wotring said the actors' lines are words people actually said about Shepard's death, which invokes some of the power in the production.
"This was one of the first televised hate crimes," Wotring said, which many of the students were not familiar with before joining the production.
"It's a fantastic play that has a great message of acceptance," she said.
Wotring said she is one of the few who already was familiar with the project, having two older brothers -- Alex and Noah -- who were involved in the high school's 2007 performance.
"It's an important play and it's something a lot of people like me, who have been sheltered, need to see," Iuvara said.
Iuvara said she has shied away from watching television news because of some of the things that happen and can stir emotions. She said that's exactly the reason people need to see The Laramie Project performances.
"It's not one-sided," Iuvara said. "It shows people from all sides and how they reacted to an event."
Lemberg said a district goal is to improve student culture, and the plays fit that approach.
"This play teaches about acceptance and advocacy, how to treat other people with kindness and respect," Lemberg said.
Tickets cost $12 for adults and $7 for seniors and students. They will be available online at seatyourself.biz/nahs or at the door.