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NMSU theater season opens with "The Laramie Project"

New Mexico State University's Department of Theatre Arts and the American Southwest Theatre Company will present "The Laramie Project" Sept. 26 through Oct. 5 at the Hershel Zohn Theatre.

ramie Project" is based on the 1998 murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was openly gay. Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, the play's authors, traveled to Laramie, Wyo., shortly after the murder to investigate the incident and conduct interviews with the surrounding community.

During the group's six trips to Laramie, they collected court records, personal journals and more than 200 interviews. They used these documents to create a reproduction of the struggles and individual thoughts of the community in the event's aftermath.

"The idea for 'The Laramie Project' originated in my desire to learn more about why Matthew Shepard was murdered -- about what happened that night and about the town of Laramie," Kaufman said. "The idea of listening to the citizens talk really interested me. How is Laramie different from the rest of the country and how is it similar?"

"One of the reasons we wanted to direct this play was so we could get it right," said Claudia Billings, the play's co-director and assistant theater professor at New Mexico State. "It's not what people think of Wyoming -- that it's full of rednecks and hicks. Most people are open-minded."

"It was interesting to re-examine the town," said Jim Billings, co-director and New Mexico State's set design coordinator. "It's very isolated, yet it's remarkably sophisticated. There are still some lasting marks: the Fireside, the bar where Shepard met his attackers, is still there, but now it's up for sale. It was interesting that rather than being outsiders looking in, we're insiders looking out."

Both directors are former residents of Laramie.

"The Laramie Project" has received considerable acclaim, including being named one of Time magazine's "Ten Best Plays of 2000." The New York Times described the play as "deeply moving" and The San Francisco Chronicle described the play as "a bracing, wholly original and deeply affecting piece of theater."

Cast members include Morgan Aldrich, Geoff Bleecker, Brandon Brown, Christine Cimino, Mike Cook, Jiji Hise, Frankie Rentas, Christopher Rippel and Deborah Yates. Jim Billings is the scenic and lighting designer, junior theater major Jason Estala is the costume designer and Brenda Walker is the stage manager.

Tickets to "The Laramie Project" are $8-13, depending on performance time and date. Performances run Sept. 26 through Oct. 5 with 7 p.m. curtains on Sept. 30 through Oct. 2, 8 p.m. curtains on Sept. 26-27 and Oct. 3-4 and 2 p.m. matinees on Sept. 27 and Oct. 5.

There will be a special performance at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 6, with proceeds benefitting Camino de Vida. For tickets to this performance, contact Camino de Vida at (505) 532-0202, Ext. 18.

For more information or tickets, contact the Hershel Zohn Theatre Box Office at (505) 646-4515.

ATTENTION EDITORS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS: Photo call for "The Laramie Project" will be at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 16, in the Hershel Zohn Theatre.