I had the pleasure to interview Thomas Ouellette (Director) and Peter Ruiz (Actor) from the upcoming adaptation of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, and hear – not only their opinions towards the play and its significance – but also about their views towards humanity, theater, and art. Peter and Thomas are very passionate about what they do, and they related it back to what is it that makes good articles. Their answer: the ones that comes closer to everyone’s soul.
Camilo Garzon: Why did Rollins decide to make an adaption of the Laramie Project in this specific time?
Thomas Ouellette: A little history on the topic, the original Laramie Project was done in 1998. The play became instantly an international phenomenon. In the beginning of 2000 it was one of the top 3 plays produced in the US, and consequently became translated and adapted in many other countries. Many students in their twenties have at least seen one adaptation of it. The decision to make the Ten Years Later was made to mark the 10 year anniversary, done by the Tectonic Theater Group, and thus decided to check how the town was doing. In the first play, Matthew never appears. What appears is a place, just a town and its reaction. That is where the universality was with respect to places identifying with it. In the second piece the reaction is just like my town. The Tectonic was not going to go back to find unpleasant memories, but to check with the town itself and the progress or permanence that had occurred. Now. Why am I interested in the play now at Rollins? We did the play 6 or 7 years ago, in the Fred Stone. As you know, it’s a smaller venue. It certainly sold every night back then, however this time I did not want to visit the first play of the Laramie Project. I wanted to see where homophobia is now, not where it was in 1998, but now. The second play is about how Laramie has owned what happened and the ways they haven’t. The inhabitants of Laramie have rewritten their history. What is interesting is to see how people attach to the play. This is about two outliers in our town, but not only outliers, they are alcoholic outliers.
C. Ga: Now going in another direction, what do you consider has been interesting of the portrayal and artistic representation of these characters?
Peter Ruiz: One of the big ideas I think of is to connect with these people in the visceral level. It does not matter what you are in race, gender or identity. Laramie is an every-man’s-town. It represents the US towns and all of us. We should portray these characters as what they are, human beings. And as such, they are someone you can connect with, with compassion. They can be despicable, clearly. When Father Roger is talking about one of the perpetrators, we understand that he is more like me, than unlike me. When he spoke this line I recognized and confirmed my thought that everyone has a piece of every character.
Th. O: Cliché is that actors cannot play someone that they don’t like. But there is some truth inside of it. In Rollins, how do I get into the skin of the character that I don’t like? You are going to play a murderer, and have to figure out how to get in their characters, clearly based on human beings and the true accounts of their lives. We have to humanize them and tell their story. It’s not my job to teach a lesson, my job is to tell the story honestly and fully, and let the people react to it individually. If we wanted to make a point, or even tell a story with a moral, it would fail as a story. If I were to write a speech about homophobia and recite it in the Annie Theater, plus inviting the community to hear it, no one would come and hear it. I am an artist and what I can do well is to tell the story, and expose the audience to this.
P. Ru: I remember in the first rehearsal how everyone was discussing the killers. We went to talk about abstract thoughts and about their actions. I’m the super gay one, and I was the only one who stood up in the defense of Russell, because he would be abused and hit while growing up. I said that this might have been one of the reasons for him to not be strong enough to stop Aaron. There are a lot of people that cannot understand why he was an accomplice, even so they can still relate to their past.
C. Ga: But wouldn’t that be an apparent contradiction of terms? What about the dualities of human nature?
Th. O: Two things can be true at the same time. On one level, Russell deserves to be in prison. On the other level, it is true that he did what he could with the deck of cards that he was given. His past and the bad decisions he had made led him to that night, and helped to make Matthew a saint, a martyr, an icon. We all are Matthew Shepard. If you go to CFAM and see an art piece, and you have someone by your side, the person will take something from it, you take another thing. The same with theater. Once it is on the stage, as art is on the wall, it deals with interpretations. I don’t want an explanation from art. I want to take whatever I can from it
P. Ru: My perspective doesn’t come to live until I come to the audience. It is the exchange of ideas, passions, ideologies, that intermingle with the audience, and the actors of the piece. That is the moment when art is created.
Th. O: If I create a painting and just leave it the garage, is it art?
P. Ru: If someone sees it, then it is art. What we are working on now is art, what we will be showing in the Annie is theater art.
C. Ga: Why do we, humans, have to identify with all those socially over-imposed categories?
P. Ru: We live in a binary society. There is nothing in between for most of the society. One side is the proper, the right. The other is the wrong side to do things in. When we introduce the shades of gray, and stop thinking in black and white, our own brain starts putting a red flag. We categorize so that our brain can put things into boxes, and when we cannot, we create tension in ourselves. And the only way to deal with it is with actions. When people are uncomfortable it’s because of crossing boundaries. We attribute these different characteristics, such as masculinity to men to become a manly man; or on the contrary we attribute more feminine characteristics to men. These categories are not real.
C. Ga: It is completely sexist to do so. Even Jung argues that, what man should strive for, is an understanding of their feminine part, which he calls the anima.
Th. O: It is sexist. Why would you undermine women? What is wrong with having a more feminine side in any gender? The lazy thing about binary thinking is that it allows us to define things from what they are not. A gay person is not a straight person. This does not define what they are. It is a shortcut. I also think that there are bits of me in the really troubled people and in the really virtuous. Theater allows us to see experiences and look at the world, plus having the magic in a darkened room, shoulder to shoulder with other others, and understanding how horrifying and fun it is to be human. To see the ways we relate with the characters and the ways we don’t. Shakespeare relates to us even nowadays because the way I relate with him underlines the ways I don’t. This play relates to us as humans, and thus it is not for one or the other, art is for all.
As Shakespeare’s Macbeth teaches us that fair is foul and foul is fair, or Goethe’s Faust shows us how two souls are dwelling in his breast; be sure to come to the first show of Rollins’ adaptation of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later on September 27, at 8:00 pm (Doors will open at 7:00 pm) and see how art can show us a reconciliation of opposites, and not binary thinking.
Photographer: Lisa Thompson
#1/ Director Thomas Ouellette
#2/ Director Thomas Ouellette
#3/ Director Thomas Ouellette (right) and actor Peter Ruiz (left)
#4/ Director Thomas Ouellette (right) and actor Peter Ruiz (left)
#5/ Actor Peter Ruiz
#6/ Director Thomas Ouellette
#7/ Director Thomas Ouellette
Photographer: Olivia Haine
#8/ Actors Ryan Roberson (left) and Casey Casteel (right) with Assistant Director Charlie Barresi
#9/ Actors Ryan Roberson (left) and Casey Casteel (right) with Assistant Director Charlie Barresi
#10/ Actors Taylor Sorrel (left) and Chris Stewart (right) with Director Thomas Ouellette (center)
#11/ Actors Taylor Sorrel (right) and Chris Stewart (left) with Director Thomas Ouellette (center)
#12/ Director Thomas Ouellette with actors Chris Stewart and Taylor Sorrel (from left)
#13/ Director Thomas Ouellette with actors Chris Stewart and Taylor Sorrel, from left (& Lillian)