Behind the Scenes of the Laramie Project

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Katherine Zhao painted the background with Laney Ching. They are one fourth of the eight-person student tech crew, that includes Katherine Sweeny, Charlotte Leane, Cooper Langer, Gibson Morris, Max Cohen, and Emma Kami.

Less than a month away another play will run in the Branson theater.

The Laramie Project, unlike other plays of previous years, has sixty-eight roles as opposed to the usual dozen. The Branson theater department will fill these parts with twenty four actors taking on multiple parts, in the same manner as the tectonic theater company that first ran the piece. With so many characters it will need all of the department’s resources to put on this show. In watching this piece it is crucial to not overlook one character in particular, the town of Laramie itself. Laramie, unlike the other characters which are created by the divided effort of several actors, is formed by the ingenuity of a group of students and staff in the tech department. This understaffed sector of the theater department frequently goes under the radar in the appreciation of plays, musicals, and performance, each with their own requirements of the tech department.
DiAnn Montemayor, theater technical director of twenty-two years, elaborated on the juxtapositions between differing views of Laramie as a setting. “The whole town is having to deal with a horrific crime that’s looming with the psychological safety of the town so we have the large fence. And there is this beautiful blue Wyoming sky, because it is a beautiful place, and he was a beautiful child, but there’s this horrific thing standing in front of it.”

Maxwell Cohen, a sophomore who has been involved since his freshman year, said: “I’ve heard in the past that there have been productions with very elaborate sets, two stories with windows, but as far as plays go for my time at Branson, this is a technically demanding show.” Comparing the Laramie project to other productions, Max establishes that while it may not be the most demanding play, the creative element of this production is unique.” In the first play I did last year, The Comical Revenge, it was a very easy lighting job. The cues were very far spaced apart, and although we don’t have any automated system (I had to press each button), I did have some time to relax. So it was great, for me at least. There was the a big set and the art on that, but for lighting it was a low key show. The most complicated shows when it comes to lighting are the dance shows. I have a lot more cues, the cues are very time sensitive.” In dance shows there are around 150-180 cues. “I had to be focused the entire time. It varies in this hierarchy: the plays [have] the least cues, musicals in the middle, and dance shows are the most difficult.” DiAnn stated that, “It can be nerve wracking, because you are performing the whole show.”
Much work has gone into creating the experience of Laramie. Max spoke about work done on the tech side: “The effect of moving the sight screen farther up the stage is definitely to give us a different look. There are going to be some interesting lighting effects going on behind that. We are going to have to find how take advantage of that using the color of the light and intensity.” The actors participating in the play have used different rehearsal strategies, including viewpoints and moment work. A sophomore in the play, Gibson Morris said, “It taught me more than interacting with other people, but interacting with the things on stage–what you can do with a chair, beyond it just being a chair.”

More information can found about the Laramie project on mattweshepard.org. The Matthew Shepard foundation formed after Matthew’s death by his parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, initially with a mission of educating parents, that later become efforts to establish legislature against hate crimes and to support the Laramie project. They have established the online community of matthewsplace.com a safe space for LGBT youth and allies to network between safe spaces.