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Professional production for performance students

By Janet Harron | Nov. 26, 2012

With stories of bullying in the news again in Newfoundland and Labrador, an upcoming theatre production connected with Memorial’s Faculty of Arts is especially timely.

The Laramie Project is based on the story of Matthew Shepard, a young gay student who was savagely beaten, bound to a fence and left to die outside the city of Laramie, Wyo. Produced by 11 students in the Department of English’s performance and communications media diploma program, the play will be performed Nov. 28-Dec. 1 at the LSPU Hall in St. John's. 

Antoinette Fekete, a student in the diploma program, is acting as producer of the play.

The Laramie Project was initiated by the Tectonic Theatre Project headed up by Moisés Kaufman. A week after the murder, Kaufman and eight others went to Laramie and interviewed hundreds of people – the resulting play is a compilation of their exact words. It’s sort of a documentary and weaves together everybody’s story and reaction to Matthew Shepard’s death,” she explained.

A demanding production, each of the eight cast members have to play eight roles each -- all based on real people.

“With that in mind and knowing how much work it takes to produce a play, I contacted these actors -- most of whom are professional actors – and told them about the project and asked if they would be interested in volunteering their time. They all love the show, what it stands for and the challenge it presents for their craft and came on board,” said Danielle Irvine, who is the director of the production and an instructor in the Faculty of Arts program.

The Laramie Project stars local talent Steve O'Connell (Republic Of Doyle, Woman In Black), Bruce Brenton (The Tempest, Sound Of Music), Brad Bonnell (Diary Of Anne Frank, Troilus and Cressida) Selina Asgar (Marriage), David Feehan (Boyfriends), Margaret Hild (Self Help), Natalia Hennelly (Republic of Doyle) and Sandy Gow (Parlour Song).

In addition to the professional actors, Ms. Irvine was able to reach out to other professional artists to mentor her students in their various departments.

"I felt that the students would benefit far beyond this course if they had a chance to make one-on-one connections with the professionals in the field, especially for those students planning to continue in this direction." 

Mentors on the production include filmmaker Justin Simms, set designer Shelley Cornick, costume designer Marie Sharpe and diploma program alumnus Erin French. Ms. French is the mentor for the production manager and producer, and is currently the production co-ordinator on Republic of Doyle. Ms. Irvine also credits the professional technical team at the LSPU Hall – Robert Gauthier and Pat Dempsey, who also happen to be her co-instructors in English 3351, one of the courses in the diploma program.

“What began as a drawback (the closure of the Reid Theatre) has burned into a gift. Crazy hours, tons of meetings, classes and rehearsal but with a play that means so much and learning opportunities galore, we’re having a blast,” Ms. Irvine said.

The Laramie Project runs Nov. 28-Dec. 1 with a pay-what-you-can performance at the Saturday matinee. Tickets are $17 for students, artists and seniors and $22 for adults. Visit or call the LSPU Hall box office at 709-753-4531 to reserve tickets.

Remzi Cej, chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission, will give an opening address at the Friday, Nov. 30, performance.