George School students will be performing The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later on Friday and Saturday, November 6 and 7, 2020 at 7:30 p.m. as their fall theater production. A big difference this year is that while some students will be there in-person, others will be performing virtually from home.
In 1998, Matthew Shepherd was brutally murdered in Laramie, Wyoming because he was gay. Moisés Kauffman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie, Wyoming to interview religious leaders, bartenders, students, and other townspeople about the case. The goal was to gather different perspectives on the tragedy that struck the tiny town. After conducting over 200 interviews, The Laramie Project emerged as a full-length play.
In 2008, Moisés and the company returned to explore the long-term effects of the event and wrote The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.
Director Maureen West, affectionately nicknamed “Mo,” chooses a central theme for each George School production. This fall, that theme is “healing dialogue.” She believes that the production feels appropriate in a time when there is a lot of stress and tension surrounding social rhetoric.
She continued, “This play selection highlights the varying perspectives, opinions, and self-definitions of the residents of Laramie, Wyoming, ten years following the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, which was ultimately recognized as a hate crime and prompted President Obama to sign the ‘Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act’ into law. Therefore, the theme of healing dialogue feels relevant and immediate for our community and is brought to life in this storytelling.”
Not only did Mo have to find a play that aligned with her theme, but she also had to find something that allowed distance learners to participate.
“As much as possible, I want them to feel included in both our classes and our performances. All teachers in the Arts department are struggling collectively and individually to address this issue. This meant that I needed to find a script whose structure was such that its action didn’t depend on the physical presence of the performers and the audience.”
Kira Barich ’21, cast member and distance learner, referred to rehearsals as “zooming in” from home. She also said it has been different since she grew accustomed to rehearsing on stage in Walton.
“I would say one of the most challenging parts of rehearsing from home is connecting with my castmates. In the past, we were able to bond in the downtime. Now, it’s harder to find those moments.”
William Buxton ’21, also rehearsing from home, shared his perspective as well. “I won’t pretend like it hasn’t been a challenge, but I feel like everyone involved has adapted well. I think part of why it’s been going so smoothly for us is that we didn’t choose a play that had to be conventionally staged.”
William continued by saying that The Laramie Project was a great choice because it is a series of interviews and not a traditional narrative. “It was very normal even before COVID for people to be interviewed remotely, so I think this show, in particular, makes it easy to justify to an audience why some of the actors are remote.” The stage is deliberately designed to keep the actors in Walton a minimum of six feet apart.
George School performed the first play, The Laramie Project three years ago. Mo pointed out that this means some of the seniors in the play actually performed in the first play. She felt like this was a wonderful connection for those students and allowed them to explore how they have grown in the past three years.
Miranda Dobkin ’21 is one of those seniors. She says the main theme that she has drawn from Ten Years Later is the idea of media manipulation.
“There are a lot of characters in the play who have a flawed perspective of Matthew Shephard’s death because of biased sources and rumors that they were exposed to and I like that the play shows how easy it can be to justify a lie to yourself if the truth is more uncomfortable to believe. I think that’s an important message to share especially at this time when there’s so much going on and a lot of unreliable media coverage of events and information.”
Mo explained that the students will perform the play live on November 6th and 7th at 7:30 p.m. via live stream. This means that there will be students performing live on stage and “zooming in” from home. Distance performers’ videos will be shown on stage as seamlessly as possible.
Even though the cast and crew can’t physically rehearse together, Mo says that they are learning so much throughout this entire process. Audience members can view a live stream of the production on the George School portal.
Watch clips of George School’s 2018 production of The Laramie Project here.