By Maxine Phoneix
Eighteen student actors will transport audiences to Wyoming this May in the spring production of Moisés Kaufman’s The Laramie Project, a three-act play that draws on hundreds of interviews with Laramie residents to recount reaction to the 1998 kidnapping, torture, and murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the state university.
The show, originally created by Kaufman and members of New York City’s Tectonic Theatre Project, features over 60 characters to be portrayed by the school’s cast of seven juniors, eight sophomores, and three freshmen. Each actor will take on four to five roles, a challenging dynamic that several cast members said they appreciated.
Cast member Katie Massie ’16 was in the winter musical, Pipe Dream, but The Laramie Project could not be more different when it comes to rehearsals, she said.
“It’s a smaller cast and a much more serious, charged show, so the rehearsals aren’t quite as lighthearted, and people don’t sing their thoughts quite as much,” she said. “The shows have both been really fun in different ways. It’s quieter and a lot calmer, and there’s less of everyone talking over each other, but we still have a good time in rehearsal.”
In the show, Katie will portray Romaine Henderson—a 21-year-old lesbian college student and one of Matthew’s good friends—as well as a waitress and one of several narrators. She said she is excited for the cast to tell what promises to be a powerful story.
Aaron Orbey ’14, whose roles include a theater major at the University of Wyoming as well as an Emergency Room doctor on duty the night of Shephard’s attack, said the play’s cultural relevance serves as an added plus. Although he compared this year’s spring production to last year’s—Mad Forest, which explored the Romanian Revolution through two middle-class families—he said The Laramie Project offers a distinctly relevant perspective.
“Especially at this time in our country with the current Supreme Court activity, the play is interesting and topical,” he added. “It’s a way of appreciating honesty, and the ensemble nature serves it all well.”
Director and Drama Teacher Mark Lindberg agreed: “The ensemble nature is always important [in BB&N plays].”
He added that he tends to choose smaller, group-focused shows for the spring, when senior classes have ended and freshmen have their first opportunity to act in a straight school play rather than a musical. That doesn’t mean telling Laramie’s story will be easy, though. The play, Mr. Lindberg admitted, is heavier than those usually seen on BB&N’s stage.
“I think audiences will be surprised, especially those who have no idea what the show is about going into it,” Katie said. “But I also think it will stick with people and get them thinking. I saw this show a few years ago, and there are lines from it that I’ve never forgotten.”
Mr. Lindberg added, “Laramie does have a great deal of popularity because of the issue of sexual identity. We can all join in on it because it’s an issue for everyone, gay or straight, and you don’t need to come from a specific background. A play that embraces [this movement] is a natural for high schools.”
To complement this experience, this year’s senior show—directed by Catherine Hanss, Mark Ferraro, and Eva Murray (all ’13) during Senior Spring Project—will be the spring play’s sequel: The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. Only seven actors form this cast, though, with each actor taking on between three and six roles.
Actress Jenna Corcoran ’13 said, “The play is about a movie made concerning the incident 10 years before. Most of the show is monologues, but our directors are trying to make it more exciting in their staging. The original show was staged as monologues, people simply standing up and telling their story.”
The spring show will open on Thursday, May 16, at 3:40 p.m. and continue its run on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The next week, the senior show will go up on May 22 and May 23 at 7:00 p.m. both nights.