The Laramie Project: Interviews With the Cast and Crew

by Ibukun Owolabi

News

February 22, 2021
Members of Drama Club perform The Laramie Project. Dr. Larash for The Scarlet Letter

On October 6, 1998, there was a horrific attack on the life of a young man by the name of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. The suspects, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, kidnapped Matthew and viciously beat him because Matthew identified as gay. Six days after the brutal attack, Matthew Shepard passed away in Poudre Valley Hospital, leaving the world in shock. Henderson and McKinney were both found guilty of first-degree murder and were sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison. 

The death of Matthew Shepard sparked protests across the nation and was a catalyst for change. Many people in Laramie felt that no person should have to go through what Shepard went through because of their identity, a belief that was amplified by the countless protests in cities across America. On October 28, 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to “strengthen the protection against crimes based on the color of your skin, the faith in your heart, or the place of your birth… add federal protections against crimes based on gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”1

This year, Boston University Academy’s winter play, directed by Mr. Gardiner, shown on January 30, was The Laramie Project. The play, written by Moisés Kaufman in 2000, comprises a series of interviews with the townspeople of Laramie, Wyoming. The dozen or so members of Drama Club played over sixty townspeople, all playing multiple roles. 

This year, many clubs and sports had to adapt all that they were doing before to the “new normal.” Drama Club had the complicated task of producing an entire play in a Zoom room. As a new member of Drama Club, I asked my fellow cast and crew members to reflect on the making of the beautiful play. The following are interviews with members of the BUA cast and crew of The Laramie Project.

Mr. Gardiner, Director

What was it like to produce a play that would be performed online?

Exciting and challenging on many levels. Whenever you produce/direct a play, one of the questions is the style or look of the production. Producing a play online added a lot of new things to consider. How do you honor that this is a play, not a film, that’s presented virtually? Is there a constant look across the board? How do you differentiate locations, characters, passage of time, act breaks? How do you deal with the wide range of devices that people are using to rehearse and record? What platform do you use for presentations?  Yea. The list goes on…

How was the production process this year different from previous years?  

Rehearsals took place later in the day, since it was better to have actors home on a computer without a mask than at school masked and socially distanced. The performances had to be recorded at the beginning of the winter break so that we had time to edit the recordings together into a coherent whole by broadcast date. The actors had to be ready for performance earlier. In a normal year we’d have at least a couple of weeks after winter break to put the pieces of the play together. Those are just a few of the differences in the process this year.

In the process of putting the play together, what were some things you enjoyed and some challenges you encountered?

I was grateful to introduce students to a play and story that few of them had heard of before our production. The story of Matthew Shepard was a story of national significance and one I followed closely and was impacted by — and the play was and is an important landmark in American theatre. I also enjoyed meeting new actors and learning what they can do. [I’ve also enjoyed] seeing other actors I’ve worked with before stretch and grow as artists in ways that sometimes surprised me.

Challenges — hoo boy — just the technical difficulties, all of which had to be dealt with remotely, from “unstable internet connection” to not enough space for the actor to set up their backdrop comfortably. And of course, scheduling any after-school activity at BUA is always challenging. There was literally only one day I had the entire cast together.

Suzie Marcus ‘22, Stage Manager

What got you interested in being involved in the play?

I’ve always loved stage crew and was stage manager at my old school last year, so I knew I wanted to be involved again here. I knew the story beforehand. I had heard of the play and the real event. 

What were some things that you enjoyed about performing the play?

I enjoyed seeing people both remote and in person be able to come together to work on the play. I also loved the story and how everyone took it seriously and cared deeply about the subject matter.

What were some of the challenges you encountered?

Challenges were probably just related to communications and scheduling in general (for everyone), but for me personally, just remembering who played who off the top of my head was super difficult.

Jasper Milstein ‘24, Actress

What were your roles in the play?

I played multiple characters; my recurring role was Reggie Fluty. 

What got you interested in performing the play?

I’ve been acting for upwards of ten years, so any opportunity to be in a show I’ll take. 

Was there anything about the story that interested you in particular?

I think it’s an incredibly captivating and touching show. Obviously, it’s a tragic story, but I think that makes it even more important to keep sharing because hate crimes are still far too prevalent to this day. By sharing the story, [we’re] spreading more knowledge and bringing more attention to the issue. 

What were some things that you enjoyed about performing the play?

I think being able to dive into some of the more complex scenes and monologues was a lot of fun and provided challenges as an actor.

What were some of the challenges you encountered?

The remote aspect definitely provided some challenges in terms of communication and joint scene work but overall was not too bad to work around. 

Elizabeth Brown ‘24, Actress

What were your roles in the play?

I played a variety of roles throughout the show. All of the members of the cast played more than one role because of the nature of the show, which has around sixty-four parts. More specifically, I played Rebecca Hilliker, the Head of the Theater Department at the University of Wyoming; Father Roger Schmit, a Catholic priest; Aaron Kreifels, a college student who found Matthew Shepard; and Shannon, a friend of Aaron McKinney. 

What got you interested in performing the play?

I have loved performing since sixth grade, when I was in my first musical. Before I came to BUA, I had seen my siblings perform in a couple different shows, and I liked what I saw, so I decided to participate in this play.

Was there anything about the story that interested you in particular?

Before this show, I had never heard about the hate crime against Matthew Shepard, so the whole show was educational for me and very interesting. I also was fascinated by the close relationships that the members of the theater company were able to build with the people of Laramie.

What were some things that you enjoyed about performing the play?

I loved working with Mr. Gardiner, Kayleigha Zawacki, our video editor, and the rest of the cast on this play. Everyone was great and amazing to work with. It was also kind of cool to learn how to record a whole show from the comfort of my home.

What were some of the challenges you encountered?

It was of course very different doing a production on Zoom, and there were some kinks to work out because of that. Also, scheduling is always an issue, regardless of whether it is in person or on Zoom. 

Kasia Perks ’21, Actress

What were your roles in the play?

My roles in the play were Doc O’Connor, Zubaida Ula, Narrator, and Mormon Home Teacher.

What got you interested in performing the play?

I miss theater because it’s not as easy to do now, so I wanted to perform in this play. I’ve been in every production since freshman year, so it seemed like an obvious continuation.

What were some things that you enjoyed about performing the play? What were some of the challenges?

I enjoyed being able to act again and engage with a script, but it was hard to stay as focused as I would usually be in person.


While the recording is no longer available to the public, Drama Club did a spectacular job in carrying out the duty of bringing awareness to what happened to Matthew Shepard. In case you don’t believe me, I’ll leave you with the words of Mr. Kolovos himself: “I was struck not only by how well our cast handled the mature material, but also with how well they translated the experience to the screen. Within a few minutes, I forgot that I was in my living room watching a teenage cast.”


1 The entire speech was delivered at the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and is on Youtube under the title President Obama Commemorates Enactment of Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

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