Cal Lutheran students, alumni present ‘The Laramie Project’

California+Lutheran+University+senior+and+%22The+Laramie+Project%22+cast+member+Moriah+Sittner+will+contribute+to+the+Rise+Up+Project%27s+first+production.+

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California Lutheran University senior and “The Laramie Project” cast member Moriah Sittner will contribute to the Rise Up Project’s first production.

Emily Henbest, Reporter

The Camarillo Skyway Playhouse’s Rise Up Project will virtually debut its rendition of “The Laramie Project” Feb. 19 -20.

“This play is about different people learning how to go about accepting [others],” California Lutheran University senior and cast member Moriah Sittner said in a Zoom interview. “It is definitely about acceptance, looking past differences and seeing that we are all people underneath.”

The Rise Up Project is an initiative to acknowledge the theatre’s role in amplifying voices within the Black, Indigenous, People Of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ communities in their productions. Members of the Rise Up Project said they chose to create the organization in July 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter and civil rights protests.

“After the widespread protests in response to police brutality and the murder of George Floyd we decided we needed to take action and it wasn’t enough for us to just say we stand with the Black community and people of color. We needed to tell their stories,” Libby Baumgartner, producer of “The Laramie Project” and Cal Lutheran alumna, said in a Zoom interview.

Some members of the Rise Up Project, including director Patrick Rogers, identify as part of the LGBTQ and BIPOC communities.

“As an out gay man in theatre, all I was seeing onstage were stereotypes of me and I wanted to be portrayed honestly and truthfully,” Rogers said in a Zoom interview.

By telling the story of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old man who was murdered in 1998 for being openly gay, “The Laramie Project” acknowledges the perseverance of the LGBTQ community despite the hate they have endured.

“I feel we have an obligation now more than ever to tell this story,” Rogers said. “To let people know they’re not alone, to let them know it’s not a bad thing [to be gay].”

Their initiative to give the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities a voice was also evident in their casting.

“They did a really good job casting, they took people into account and made sure they felt represented,” Sittner said. “They also wanted to make sure we weren’t playing into particular stereotypes.”

The entire cast is 12 people, but there are 70 plus roles, meaning all the actors have multiple characters and perspectives which they must develop.

Stan McConnell, another member of the Rise Up Project and Assistant Producer of “The Laramie Project,” identifies as a member of the BIPOC community.

“The representation has never been that great in theatre,” McConnell said in a Zoom interview. “One of the things I found is that it’s not just getting the opportunity, I mean it’s great when they want to do ‘Death of a Salesman’ with an all-Black cast. But at the end of the day it’s really hearing another perspective, another voice, another way of viewing things.”

The play provides this perspective by acting out all the interviews that Moises Kaufman, creator of “The Laramie Project,” conducted following the murder of Matthew Shepard.

“It forced a theatrical renaissance, that’s what I believe,” said Hayley Silvers, Rise Up Project member and tech director of “The Laramie Project.”

The entire production process, as well as the debut to come later this month, is all virtual. However, Rise Up members and participants of the production are making the most of it.

“As unfortunate as this whole situation that we’ve been in throughout the past year, it really has opened up some great opportunities for us to create new techniques and find new things that work,” Assistant Director and Cal Lutheran alumna Olivia Leyva said in a Zoom interview.

By making “The Laramie Project” from the comfort of their own homes, the cast took advantage of the opportunity to have an international pool of actors, which wouldn’t happen if it were a live, local performance.

“In casting the show, we opened it up globally. We saw people in Japan, England, one of our actors is located in Ireland and we have people on the east coast as well as in Southern California. Without Zoom we wouldn’t have been able to access these incredible people,” Rogers said.

In addition to this casting advantage, there are many new technological advancements and findings that can make the production an entirely new experience, Baumgartner said in a Zoom interview.

“What’s really interesting about this is that the moments are so intimate because you’re right in the actor’s face, you’re really listening, it feels like you’re right up close with them,” Silvers said. “And you’re able to overlay so many interesting things that you would never have the opportunity to do on a live stage.”

“The Laramie Project” first took the stage in 2000. Moises Kaufman and fellow members of The Tectonic Theater Project made six trips to Laramie over the course of a year and a half in the aftermath of the beating and during the trial of the two young men accused of killing Shepard. They conducted more than 200 interviews with the people of Laramie and the manuscript is a collection of the people’s thoughts and opinions in their own words.

“The Laramie Project” will stream Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m. & Feb. 20 at 2 p.m. The show runs approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Tickets are available at showtix4u.com

You can find the Rise Up Project on Tik-Tok @riseupproject2020 and Instagram @rise.up.project