The Laramie Project: theater department addresses social issue

Matthew Shepard. 21 years old. Beaten. Tortured. Tied to a fence. Left to die.

Gay.

“The Laramie Project” is the first semester production being produced by Tom Schulz and the theater department in October. “It’s actually a project I’ve been looking at for 10 years,” Schulz said.  “This play has become a contemporary classic, albeit at times a controversial one.”

Mika Martin rehearses her monologue as Romaine, Matthew Shepard’s best friend. Photo by Hayden Reeves.

Despite this, most students don’t know much about it. “I know it sounds weird, but I always picture, like, a struggling high school student when I hear the word Laramie, you know?” junior Emiliana Balestrini said when she was asked what came to mind when she heard “The Laramie Project.” Emiliana was surprisingly close. “The Laramie Project” is based on the true story of a gay college student who was beaten to death in the small town of Laramie, Wyoming.

Karisa Poedjirahardjo reads her script backstage before she goes onstage. Photo by Hayden Reeves.
Karisa Poedjirahardjo reads her script before she goes onstage. Photo by Hayden Reeves.

Another student, senior Erika Dinsmore, was also clueless about the plot of the production. “I know it’s the drama production this year… and ‘Laramie’ sounds sort of, I don’t know, Greek or something? I don’t know. I don’t really know anything about it.”

For senior Thomas McAdam, the word Laramie conjures a different image. “I would say something sorta like the Lazarus project… something coming back to life or something like that.”

Thomas thought it was about a resurrection – and he wasn’t necessarily wrong. The story is set in Laramie after the murder of a young Matthew Shepard, and every line spoken is a true voice of the people of the town. The ensemble is bringing the voices of Laramie in 1998 back to life.

Amelia Rasekhy co-directs the play alongside Thomas Schulz and Laura Schuester.
Amelia Rasekhy co-directs the play alongside Thomas Schulz and Laura Schuester. Photo by Hayden Reeves.

Aside from being partially right, the second thing they all had in common is that they wanted to know what the story was really about after they guessed. After hearing the basic plot line, all three of them were enticed. Emiliana even said, “I just got chills.”

“‘The Laramie Project’ is about the fallout that comes from the brutal murder of a gay student at the University of Wyoming,” junior Nate Wehrman explained. Nate is portraying Aaron McKinney, one of the men who killed Matthew Shepard.

“It’s about a hate crime,” junior AJ Deguire, another cast member, added. “It’s a story of a true event that broadens our viewpoints. It shows how people stand from one another – and together.”

The story of Matthew Shepard and the way his death impacted the world has become not only a story of tragedy, but a story of change. The play deals with every aspect of human emotion, and nearly every point of view on a very intense topic.

“I think it’s important to do this show because of the sense of understanding other possibilities or other outcomes,” AJ said. “We’re coming from a multicultural school – an international school, and people have so many different viewpoints and so many different ways of living, and I think it’s important to accept the fact that we’re all different people.”

“Most of the other plays we do are funny or interesting, but haven’t really created any change in our school,” junior Bryce Yoder, who’s playing Moises Kaufman, the narrator of the play, commented. “Hopefully, this piece will be transformative for our audience and our school as a whole.”

Nate Wehrman and Louis Gordon portray a murderer and a judge. Photo by Hayden Reeves.

“I learned more about my peers,” Nate said of his learning process throughout the show.

AJ agreed with Nate. “I learned about others and how they react to the conversation. How they react to what they feel is right and what is wrong.”

The lessons that Bryce learned can be transferred into all aspects of his life. “I learned to be careful about the language that I use because I’m the kinda guy who will just say whatever and not really think twice about it,” Bryce said.

Whether you’re involved in the production or just simply watching the performance, the story of Matthew Shepard’s death is moving and revolutionary. This play might eventually change the way that the students in our school behave and interact with each other and with others. When was the last time you saw something that powerful?

*This play deals with mature subject matter. It is open to everyone, and parents should use their discretion in bringing children to the show.

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