At the Vermont State Drama Festival, hosted by St. Johnsbury Academy on March 23 and 24, St. Johnsbury Academy Theatre's production of "The Laramie Project" was one of two plays selected to represent the State of Vermont at the New England Drama Festival.

"The Laramie Project" is Moises Kaufmann's evocative exploration of the brutal murder of college student Matthew Shepherd in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. Kaufmann and the other members of the Tectonic Theatre Company visited Laramie and performed numerous interviews and other research to explore the reasons for and the reactions to Shepherd's death. Kaufmann crafted the results into series of narrative moments that reveal a community struggling to make sense of the issues surrounding this incident, particularly because Shepherd was homosexual. Kaufmann has said, "The Laramie Project is not about Matthew Shepard or homosexuality -- nor is it really about Laramie ... This show is about hate of 'the other,' whoever that may be -- an often blind and visceral hate -- and how that hate affects individuals and communities." The play has been called one of the most important scripts to be written in the past 20 years.

Academy Theatre's production of "Laramie" was hailed by the adjudicators (professional actor Charlie McAteer; artistic director of the Weston Playhouse Steve Stettler; and artist-in-residence at Woodstock UHS Harriet Worrell) as "A major and important achievement;" "Fantastic -- Amazing -- Wonderfully, stupendously, awesome." "Just great -- a dramatic treat." "You should be enormously proud of this work you have done." Audience reaction was just as notable, with the audience leaping to its feet in applause after the lights went out.

The acting ensemble of Patrick Hatch (co-director), Lindsey Newton, Nora Gair, Christian Dekett, Jordan Dekett, Jessica Beliles, Sam Zuk, Lucas Prevost and Anna Kadinoff were collectively recognized by the festival for their emotional commitment as an ensemble, with Hatch, both Deketts and Zuk receiving individual acting awards.

The State Festival involved over 250 students from 10 Vermont schools. The productions included plays such as Otter Valley Union High School's one-act version of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" and Fair Haven Union High School's presentation of Agatha Christie's "The Patient."

The theme of the festival, devised by the Academy Theatre officers (Nora Gair, Lindsey Newton, Patrick Hatch, Jordan Dekett) was "The Minstrel's Tale", with humorous skits presented at intervals throughout the festival, and decorations reminiscent of various rooms in a medieval castle.

The New England Drama Festival will be held April 26, 27 and 28 at Gilford (N.H.) High School. The other production selected by the festival to represent Vermont at the New England Festival was Milton High School's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Local productions of "The Laramie Project" prior to the New England festival are being planned and will be publicized. Contact director Bill Vinton at wvinton@stjacademy.org or 802-751-2245 for more information.

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