Updated: Sep 18, 2022
By Becca Miller
This year, the Barrack upper school play is The Laramie Project. This play was created by Moises Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theater Project, based on interviews they conducted with residents of Laramie, Wyoming, following the murder of Matthew Shepard.
Matthew Shepard was a gay college student who, on October 6, 1998, met a pair of men at the Fireside Bar located in Laramie, Wyoming. A cyclist later found Shepard savagely beaten, unconscious, and left for dead bound to a fence. He never regained consciousness and died five days later. Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, both residents of Laramie, were apprehended and found guilty of killing him. They were convicted of felony murder and sent to prison to serve two consecutive life sentences. These events made the front pages all over America.
The JBHA Drama Department performed The Laramie Project 10 years ago, according to department head, Dewey Oriente. He added that, “I thought the current political climate, coupled with the format of the show [would make] it easy to go virtual; I believe Laramie [was] a good choice.” This time, Dewey was directing The Laramie Project along with Ash Chelder ‘21 and Ben Fisher ‘21, both veterans of the JBHA Drama Department.
The Drama Department remained undeterred by the difficulties presented by COVID-19. Some of their rehearsals were in person, after school in the auditorium, and everyone there wore masks. According to Rosie Ackerman ‘23, a cast member, “The whole show is basically socially distanced, so it worked fine.” During in-person rehearsals, they blocked out the show. Rosie also described online rehearsals, saying that, “In the beginning, it was just going through the script and reading our lines, but [later we talked] about how we [were] blocking the show.” One challenge was that a couple of students participating in the show were fully virtual. But the members of the department were resourceful and flexible in their preparations.
As of November, there was still a lot of uncertainty about how exactly performances would work. Rosie said at the time, “I know the performance is virtual and it’s on December 12th; I don’t really know how we’re showing it though.” Similarly, Dewey Oriente said, “We are still figuring out the best way to present the show. There are many options: filming the show live in the auditorium, students filming sections on their own, and maybe using Zoom too.” Like everyone else, the Drama Department had to figure out how to adapt and resume normal activities in a rapidly changing world. Dewey commented that, “We are learning as we go along; it is a new world and a new interpretation of theatre. This is an art form that I know like the back of my hand, but I feel like a first-time director.”
The Laramie Project is a vastly important show, and I, for one, looked forward to watching the highly talented JBHA Drama Department perform it. After watching the show, I can emphatically say that the cast and crew really did an excellent job. The Laramie Project is by nature powerful and moving, and the talented cast delivered it quite well. They also did a really good job adapting to the virtual format necessitated by Covid-19. Anyone who didn’t see the show really missed out.