Given the underlying emphases on tolerance, understanding and anti-bullying, it seems only fitting that the Fourth Annual South Georgia Pride Festival will kick off this weekend with a performance of playwright Moises Kaufman's "The Laramie Project."
Area performers will present an abridged production of the famed reader's theatre piece that tells the real-life story of Matthew Sheppard, a young, gay man, who was brutally murdered in 1998 in Laramie, Wyo.
Jeremy Williams, who regularly directs Cook County theatre productions, directs this one-night-only performance scheduled for Friday evening at Hildegard's in Downtown Valdosta.
"'The Laramie Project' is as close as a play can get to being a documentary," Williams says. "The writers conducted over 200 interviews with the people of Laramie after the brutal beating of Matthew Sheppard, his subsequent death, and the trials of his attackers. Nine actors play dozens of roles, recreating the people of Laramie by using their own words."
It is a powerful production. Nearly a decade ago, Valdosta State University Theatre & Dance presented "The Laramie Project" in its entirety. This Pride Festival production shortens the show.
"The show is about 90 minutes long," Williams says. "We had cut it down a bit just to fit it into the Pride kickoff event. This way we're able to present the show without intermission. We tried to focus on the moments that were central to the story of Matthew Sheppard."
Williams has wanted to direct "The Laramie Project" for some time. Raynae Jones, a festival organizer, wanted something different to kick off the festival. With the show, the festival becomes a full weekend event, with "The Laramie Project" Friday night; the festival throughout the day Saturday in Saunders Park; and an interfaith service Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church which features speaker Kym Berry. Williams' wife, Christia, introduced the stage director and the festival organizer and they decided to produce the show.
Instead of auditions, Williams asked for volunteers to perform. Just the right number of men and women volunteered to present the show.
"We're fortunate to have some really talented folks in the show," Williams says.
The Cast: Ashley Anderson, Michael Brogdon, Samantha Colgan-Jones, Ethan Glass, T.J. Gray, Connor Rentz, Christia Williams, Jeremy Williams, Tammie Welch.
- "The Laramie Project,” 7-10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, Hildegard’s, 101 E. Central Ave. Admission: $10.
- The main festival is scheduled for 12-7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, John H. Saunders Park on River Street.
- On Saturday night, there will be a post-festival gathering at Glo Ultra Lounge, 115 N. Patterson St.
- At 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, an Interfaith Pride service will be held, Unitarian Universalist Church of Valdosta, 1951 E. Park Ave. The speaker: Kym Berry; an earlier article reported the wrong speaker.