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The Laramie Project premieres in person

Photo: Oakville News
Photo: Oakville News

After several months of rehearsals (and multiple attempts to perform), this weekend West End Studio Theatre (WEST) will finally take the stage in-person with their new production of Moisés Kaufman's award-winning play The Laramie Project - a docudrama about the true story of a 1998 tragedy in Wyoming.

The show premieres at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts tonight, Friday, April 22, 2022, and has four performances this weekend through Sunday afternoon.

The show began as a free to watch live stream back in February 2022, but now that full audiences are allowed once again the show will now be performed for a live audience as planned from the beginning.

"I've been trying to get this show done in person before COVID-19 hit in 2020," says show director and WEST artistic director Yo Mustafa. He jokes that, "we've really been at this for five years. I can't wait for people to finally see it."

This production marks the first time the play is being presented in Halton Region (aside from two productions done at local high schools) and features a local cast with several veteran actors from the company, and as Mustafa describes it, "it's just fantastic theatre." 

First premiered in 2000, The Laramie Project is play formally credited to author/director Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project. The story is about the reactions to the 1998 murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. Mustafa says he chose the The Laramie Project "because it is an important story to tell."

"It's a nightmare. Matthew was beaten and then tied to a pole, and then they left him there for 18 hours. This story is speaking to all the parents in the world. To watch your child suffer and die like that - I wish that upon no one. To this day I still cry at certain parts - but this is a true story and it really happened."

"We have not come that far with our attitudes," he continues, "not just towards homosexuals but also about how people are handling hatred. That's why it's so important we tell the story of Matthew Shepherd."

What's it like working back in the theatre again? Mustafa says "Being in the theatre and doing the tech rehearsals feels like I've been handed the crown jewels. I'm so privileged to do this show. And the actors are so great."

It's clear this show is a deeply personal project for Mustafa, even as he's directed more than 20 productions at the Oakville Centre before. But "as a father and a parent who loves his sons", he says this play terrified him because of its power.

"Yes, Matthew Shepherd was gay, but what's most important is that this is about the loss of a child. And a person," he says. "This is the honest truth - I've never anticipated a show as much as this one. This one is from heart."

WEST, as a production company in Oakville more than 40 years, is making some radical changes to their playbill and productions in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mustafa says that this show is the beginning of their new initiative to produce more intimate and small-scale shows in Oakville.

"This is the type of theatre that we want WEST to present," he says. "We want to make more alternative theatre, more small-cast shows, and more profound theatre than what defined us in the former Oakville Drama Series. I love what we did, but with shows like The Laramie Project goes back to the roots of what made WEST when we started."

Mustafa finishes by saying, "Halton needs more of this kind of theatre."

WEST's next project is currently up in the air, especially since there is no more Oakville Drama Series (which folded in the pandemic) but Mustafa says children's camps will be happening at the WEST studio this summer.

More information about The Laramie Project and ticket sales are available online here. 

Shows are at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets begin at $20.


Tyler Collins

About the Author: Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is the editor for Oakville News. Originally from Campbellton, New Brunswick, he's lived in Oakville more than 20 years. Tyler is a proud Sheridan College graduate of both Journalism and Performing Arts.
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