Sunday, May 27, 2001

Hate crime inspires theater group talks




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        In the aftermath of the 1998 robbery, beating and death of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, playwright Moises Kaufman (Gross Indecency) and his Tectonic Theatre made several trips to Laramie. They conducted hundreds of interviews with the inhabitants of the small Wyoming town. They talked to friends, relatives, police, prosecutors, citizens and strangers to find an explanation of how a hate crime happens in a community.

        The result is the docu-drama The Laramie Project, being performed through June 3 by Playhouse in the Park's M.F.A. Acting Company in the theater's Marx Rehearsal Hall.

        While the play was scheduled long before last month's civil unrest, Mr. Kaufman's reasons for embarking on the project speak to Cincinnati's search for answers. Mr. Kaufman posed these questions to members of his theater company:

        • What can we as theater artists do as a response to this incident?

        • Is theater a medium that can contribute to a dialogue on current events?

        In the spirit of The Laramie Project, members of Cincinnati's theater community took on Mr. Kaufman's questions. Not surprisingly, their search for answers was no easier than it's been for the rest of the community:

        Laramie cast member Collin Worster: “It's been weird. I was watching the rioting on TV and I was wondering, “...Should we be on street corners with tape recorders doing The Cincinnati Project?”

        Ovation Theater managing director Deborah Ludwig: “As artists, you want to put issues that affect us — racism, sexism, abuse, aging, you name it — issues that need to be tackled. You want to start a dialogue audiences will continue after they leave the theater.”

        Laramie cast member Shannon Michael Wamser: “I hope there will be talk-backs (after performances). This is a piece that pulls amazing things up from inside you. We need to give audiences a chance to release that.”

        Free-lance director and fight choreographer Drew Fracher: “Our medium is not as instant as some — finding a project, casting, rehearsing and producing is a lengthy process. Do we need to organize hit-and-run scale and be ready to do street theater to help get the issues out in the open?”

        Know Theatre Tribe artistic director Jay Kalagayan: “Events can't be responded to quickly, but ongoing issues can be addressed theatrically, especially with outreach programs.”

        Playwright Kevin Barry: “I don't see very many ethnic faces in the audience when I attend theater in this town, but I see a lot of terrific African-American actors at auditions.”

        Playwright Joe McDonough: “We need to do more toward bringing African-Americans into our theaters and making them feel that their participation in the theatrical experience is welcome.”

        Mr. Barry: “Wouldn't it be great to see a citywide salute to African-American playwrights that would be as enthusiastically embraced as the Lanford Wilson festival? Local political figures and guest speakers could be a part of it.”

        Mr. McDonough: “Why does Cincinnati not have a professional African-American-produced theater like every other city its size?”

        Mr. Fracher: “What can we do? I think we can volunteer at places like FreeStore FoodBank and show our faces wherever the issues are being discussed in an open forum.

        “We can continue to operate in neighborhoods and smile and speak to and contact folks of all colors in all neighborhoods. It's a tough issue and we need to keep talking about how we can make any sort of difference at all.”

        Playwright Mary Tensing: “I think our rallying cry is to create something that needs to be said.

        “The unrest has been such a reality check. Middle-class white people forget the inequalities that pervade our culture. ... That's what we can offer — a place to look at ourselves by stepping beyond our old ways of seeing.”

        Mr. McDonough: “In Cincinnati, every professional theater is either within the areas of civil unrest or within walking distance. We can ignore that only at our own peril.”

        Mr. Wamser: “It doesn't matter where you live; these things aren't solved just with legislation. You have to discover what is the root, what is the seed that grows into acts of hatred. What's planted when a child is 3 years old, 5 years old?”

        Laramie cast member Jane Schrantz: “If they had gone to Laramie and had put together a play — even if it hadn't been acclaimed, it would have been worth the time.

        “This has been the most awesome undertaking.”

        The Laramie Project plays at 2 and 7 p.m. today and continues through next Sunday. Tickets are $15. Call the Playhouse box office at (513) 421-3888 for information and reservations.

        Shakespeare shifts: Comedy will be king most nights at Cincinnati Shakespeare next season as the festival makes some switches and shifts in its 2001-02 previously announced season schedule.

        The rarely performed adventure Pericles is out, mostly because artistic director Jasson Minadakis took another look at the calendar and realized that the May 16-June 2 would lose too much of the school audience.

        Amy Freed's hilarious and astute The Beard of Avon (which puts forth several theories as to who wrote the canon) moves from its former April slot to the May 16 opening.

        Shakespeare's evergreen comedy As You Like It is added to the schedule April 11-May 5. The thinking is that, depending on commitments, festival co-founder Marni Penning Minadakis (now based in New York) will return to play Rosalind, as she did this spring to take a star turn in Lovers and Executioners.

        Fellowship fund-raiser: Ovation Theatre holds a Fellowship Fund-raiser from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday at York Street International Cafe (738 York St., Newport).

        Entertainment will include wine tasting, a cabaret act by Deborah Ludwig and Marty Cosgrove, Hobbit-style mushroom hors d'oeuvres, stand-up comedy by Michael Flannery, psychics, desserts, improv by Friends of Lucy and a silent auction.

        Proceeds will benefit the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati and Ovation's new production of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring which will play Sept. 20-29 in the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater.

        Fund-raiser tickets $20 in advance (call the theater at 369-1544) and $25 at the door.
       North Shore: Planning a trip to Boston? Think about a side trip to Beverly, Mass., and the prestigious North Shore Music Theatre.

        CCM grad (2000) Aaron Lazar, recently seen fopping alongside Ron Bohmer in The Scarlet Pimpernel has left his glad rags behind and is playing the lead in Carousel. Playing Julie Jordan to his Billy Bigelow is CCM junior Angela Gaylor, who took spring quarter off to perform at North Shore before moving on to Pittsburgh's Civic Light Opera for the summer season, including performing April in Company.

        Carousel is busting out all over with CCM grads — the cast includes Justin Bohon and Tony Yazbeck.

        CCM grad Matt Bogart opens in the same role on Wednesday at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey.
       

        E-mail jdemaline@yahoo.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/demaline

       



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