Behind the Scenes: The Laramie Project

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Art/Photo by Morgan Kotecki(11)

On top of the new style, the performers had to familiarize themselves with filming, rather than performing on a stage. Morgan Kotecki (11), who plays Rebecca Hiliker in the play, expressed: “Acting from home was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever done. It was a fun experience because we had to think outside of the box to put up production but definitely an experience I’ll never forget. I’m just glad that we are starting to do more acting in person.”

Shrutika Ezhil, Staff Writer

   Despite having to cancel their Spring production in 2020 and having to protest for in-person practices, West High’s Theatre Department still found a way to assure that the show must go on. On May 14th and 15th, The Laramie Project, the Theatre Department’s first virtual performance, live-streamed for all to see.

Behind the Scenes: A Heavy Topic 

   Other than the virtual aspect, the show itself was quite different for many performers, as Abigail Newhart (11), who plays the role of Officer Reggie Fluty, explained: “This style of performance is very serious…it is a much more serious subject matter than we normally deal with. It calls for more realism to entirely avoid any sarcasm or caricature.” In the past, the Theatre Department is known to put on lighthearted plays and joyful musicals, but the Laramie Project focuses on the true afterstory of the murder of Matthew Shepard, which was deemed an anti-gay hate crime in Laramie, Wyoming. Ethan Verderber (12), a senior in Play Production, plays several major roles in the show, including the father of Matthew Shepard, explained why this play was relevant to today’s world: “While [the play] may not directly address many of the things going on in the world, a large piece of the show is how to cultivate an attitude of learning and progress. We can take those lessons into any situation that comes up, and tackle it in a better, smarter way.” Verderber also pointed out that this wasn’t the only reason the play was chosen, as the “documentary style of the play makes performing easier in a socially distant world.” 

Behind the Scenes: Acting & Filming

   Preparing for the show was “as different as it can get” Verderber said. But one thing stayed the same: the acting. Every year, performers are tasked with playing a different character, and this year was no different. But, Emily Fink (11), who played two roles in the play, noted that “[The] first thing to consider when playing these characters is to recognize that they are actual people living today. That factor played such a huge part in the actual show because we weren’t allowed to put our own spin on it or add in lines. Everything had to be exact.” Because the characters in the play are all real, not much was up for interpretation, and the acting was quite specific to each person, which made the acting portion a bit different. Newhart explained how she had to focus on the speech patterns of her character, because her character tended to use “you know?” a lot. Whereas Fink focused on trying to imagine the character during the time and place of each scene. 

   Other than the 50 roles in this play, which required a lot of casting and double, or even triple-casting, there was also a lot of organizing. With certain people being distant and having to film virtually and others having to be in person, there was a lot that went into the filming process. Newhart, who filmed at home, expressed, “It was an odd experience for me to film at home because I was just sitting in my living room with a blank wall behind me. You lose some of the energy of being there with the cast and the energy and feedback from the audience.” Verderber, who was able to be in-person, spent 19 hours filming. “Being able to see people as they come in and out, being able to watch my friends act and learn — I missed it more than I realized. Filming as a concept was nice, too, since if we made a mistake or didn’t feel great about a performance, we could get another take!” Despite the change in environment during rehearsals and filming, especially since much of the cast was separated, it didn’t stop performers from putting on their best performance. 

otThe Show

   Watching the show, I could only imagine the amount of work, rehearsals, and editing that went into each act. Each scene felt real, as though I was witnessing the raw emotions of the people during the time and aftermath of Shepard’s death. It showed me and many others the resilience of the Theatre Department; being able to pull off such a heavy and meaningful performance despite the obstacles of this year.