Next stop: Laramie, Wyoming

Students of Actor’s Rep presents the story of Matthew Shepard in The Laramie Project.

Angel Perez, Copy Editor

In 1998, a gay university student, Matthew Shepard, was brutally beaten by two men and left out on a fence outside of Laramie to die. During the aftermath, the playwright, Moisés Kaufman, and other Tectonic Theater Company members traveled to Laramie, Wyoming, to conduct hundreds of interviews with locals. These interviews, news reports and transcripts were combined to tell the story through The Laramie Project. During Feb. 26 and 27, with a 48-hour stream, Actors’ Rep portrayed the story directed by senior Quinn Rizco and co-directed by seniors Kristen Slymen and Makenna Malkin. 

As the show portrays real conducted interviews, Actors’ Rep had to take that into account to tell the story thoroughly with honesty in the style of Verbatim theater.

“A lot of drama shows are pretty much made up, like Macbeth or drama movies, and not all of them are real, and you can play with these characters, you can play with the story,” Rizco stated. “For Laramie, you have to make sure you got it right. From the beginning, we had to tell the story correctly, so there was a lot of research. I watched documentaries left and right, not just about the incident but also queer culture back then. All of our actors also researched the characters they were playing.”

With hundreds of interviews that were conducted comes a large amount of people to portray. So the class had to start casting and rehearsing as soon as possible.

“The class had auditions during finals week for the first semester,” Malkin explained. “Then the first day of winter break was casting for hours on Zoom through midnight because, in the show, there are about 80 or 60 characters. It was hard to fit every person into each role, and we also had to include online students who can’t perform in person, so we had to figure out which roles were suitable for an online performance. We also had late nights watching bootlegs of The Laramie Project to get some inspiration, but we also laughed and had fun too.”

With most actors having to portray more than one person, they had to get started with rehearsals as soon as possible.

Courtesy of Makenna Malkin

“The first day we got back from Winter Break, we started rehearsals,” Malkin described. “We did rehearsals during Actors’ Rep; we also held some outside of school rehearsals at Flo Jo [Park] and Bathgate, and we did a bunch of Zoom stuff too. And we also did individual rehearsals, which was good having three directors because we wanted to do one-on-one’s with every person.”

Of course, with a play filmed indoors comes safety precautions. Actors were blocked into certain places, props were hardly used and actors were spread apart at optimal distances. When the show’s acts would end, the directors would sanitize everything that the actors had touched prior, such as chairs, in the scenes. In contrast to dramas’ fall play Almost, Maine, regulations had changed that allowed them to film indoors. It had allowed for a more controlled setting than the original idea of filming outside. 

“The outside thing didn’t work out with tech because we wouldn’t have lighting; we would’ve had to film during the day because it’s such a long show. We couldn’t have had microphones, the cameras would’ve been hard and it would’ve been such a huge space because we have to spread out; it would’ve been so hard to hear everybody,” Malkin vocalized.

Many of the plays’ attributes, such as the show’s trailer and poster, came from film students and tech crew.

“We had some film students from Capo.360. They edited it, and we couldn’t have done it without them,” Malkin noted. 

Lucas Morgan composed the show’s music, and Evan Nowack and Kayleigh Werner conducted the show’s trailer. The poster and title card of the show was worked on together by Bella Cherney and Emilie Roper. 

With a musical soon coming in April, fundraisers are the primary source of income. Nevertheless, the student-ran show had gained a profit to benefit the drama department. 

“From tickets and donations,” Rizco clarified. “We were able to get around $4,000 back in revenue, which is amazing because typically shows don’t make that much. Some shows you do lose money and coming from Almost, Maine and thinking about the budget for this show, we only had $100, and we’ve made so much more back already.”

With this show being possibly the last time seniors get to perform on the Capo stage, it was a bittersweet experience. However, they’ll perform in the drama program’s musical, Urinetown, which is set to be recorded and streamed in April. 

With The Laramie Project being a powerful show for holding significant themes such as combating prejudice and homophobia, the Actors’ Rep class, along with its tech members and crew, beautifully displayed the story of Matthew Shepard and the aftermath that follows it. With the directors working harmoniously together and the people’s portrayal from actors, the show comes together to say enough is enough. As they close a successful show and soon move onto their musical, the sparkling lights of Laramie, Wyoming, would stay forever lit.

Courtesy of Makenna Malkin